Brand values can be malleable but they should be strong enough to prepare you for worst-case scenarios.
Much ink has been spilled over United Airlines' latest public incident and social media's role in rapidly spreading video of a passenger being dragged off an airplane. Today's consumers are more polarised than ever and increasingly expressing their opinions and showing their own values in the way they spend their money.
Consumers (or even politicians) may voice polarising support or dissent but brands should assess the impact on their company bottom lines rather than assume that a vocal social response is negatively affecting their brand.
The fact is, many of the brands recently called out on social media aren't seeing dramatic effects either way.
While scary at the time of tweet, the US president putting a brand on blast does not spell doom for the company.
·Consumer boycotts build quickly but lose steam fast.
Most consumer-started controversies are as fleeting as typical social content. Social networks publish immense volumes of content via continuous news feeds. The consequence: an ever-shortening attention span in which content stales quickly.
·Some social 'crises' turn into wins (or at least not very big deals)
While scary at the time of tweet, the US president putting a brand on blast does not spell doom for the company. After President Trump complained about Nordstrom dropping his daughter Ivanka's line, Nordstrom saw its share price immediately fall 1 per cent but by end of day, it had risen 4.1 per cent.
·Conversely, social praise does not predict company success
Positive press does not automatically equate to company gains either. When President Trump thanked Ford for scrapping plans to build a plant in Mexico, its stock price initially rose on the day of his tweet but then fell 4.8 per cent over the next six weeks. Similarly, the president's glowing announcement of Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson's nomination for secretary of state saw Exxon's initial share price jump and then steady fall over the next two months.
Nevertheless, many organisations worry about making missteps on social media and falling out of favour, prompting them to ask: "How can my brand respond to a social crisis?"
In reality, the question they should be asking is: "How can my brand plan for any social crisis so that when it hits, our response is clear and automatic?"
Brands with established and rehearsed crisis management plans — no matter the channel — will rise above the fray. In the event of such an issue, Forrester recommends getting back to social crisis management basics:
The question companies should be asking is: ‘How can my brand plan for any social crisis so that when it hits, our response is clear and automatic?’
Let your brand pillars be your guide
Your brand's values should be the foundation for how your brand behaves in all situations, including on social media. Sure, brand values can be malleable but they should be strong enough to prepare you for worst-case scenarios.
Document your tolerance for brand risk.
Companies must also have a stated and widely-known policy for brand risk, such as a willingness to take chances with brand reputation or a threshold for negative publicity.
Establish and follow a prescriptive crisis management plan
Imagine an architect building a house without a blueprint; having no plan and improvising under pressure only leads to error. You'll need a step-by-step plan (agencies sometimes call it a "playbook") to guide you in any social crisis scenario. And, practice makes perfect: run simulation drills for various crisis scenarios so that your team is ready for action.
If your organisation has yet to establish a social crisis management plan, it is important that the company's marketing and communications team work closely with internal and external partners to build a crisis management team.
In particular, business leaders like the CEO or the CMO must steer the company in in difficult times, while not forgetting specialised teams like technology management or the legal department whose expertise can play key roles in social crisis management.
You can also lean on your external agencies but ensure that they're receiving the same training as your internal cohorts. Social media agencies and PR agents will help your company execute and disseminate the final message.
Jessica Liu is a senior analyst at Forrester.
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