In the eye of PR disaster, be Authentic

With so many channels and audiences to manage, and hyper connectivity driving always-on brand communication, it’s understandable that a brand may slip occasionally. Making a social media blunder isn’t necessarily a PR disaster, unless the incident is highly offensive or incredibly insensitive.

So let’s say in this (mostly) hypothetical situation a strong, well respected (depends who you ask) brand has totally misread their community. In trying to engage this community through a somewhat outdated competition promo, they completely alienated said community - resulting in very strongly voiced negative opinions and mockery of the company, their campaign and general ethics. This was especially damaging since this company’s, and their industry’s, strength lies in being ethical, trusted and caring.

What initially appeared to be disastrous could have fairly easily been swung in favour of the brand. Implementing a well-placed and -timed response strategy could have made bank for the brand. It wasn’t, and didn’t.

Here’s why.

First Response

The brand simply wasn’t quick enough to respond to their community in any meaningful way. Much speculation about intent behind the campaign was left to the increasingly angry community, with a heard-it-from-a-friend-whose-friend-works-there explanation seeming to carry the most weight, initiating an entirely new thread of discussion and further negativity.

Weak Response

Instead of a press statement saying the campaign was an internal oversight (you don’t say), and it’s been cancelled, the brand would have done far better to veer off-brand for a moment. Simply saying ‘we totally got that wrong’ - I do concede that perhaps this wording could be a little more eloquent - would have resonated far better with their community, instead of further alienating them with box-size-ten corporate communication perceived to be pacifying the C-Suite and Investors.

Cancelling the campaign was a missed opportunity. The brand could have done something amazing for the community, still run the competition with tangible benefit to the entrants and the prize a life-changing opportunity for the winner. The tide would have completely turned in the company’s favour, engagement sky-rocketed and trust and respect of their community regained. In the long term it would be worth the investment - follow-on campaigns allowing the brand to positively direct the narrative.

Misunderstanding the Community

While research definitely plays a huge role in brand strategy, the understanding and insight gained from monitoring and engaging with your community on social channels is invaluable. Don’t leave management of your brand’s social channels to anyone less than expert in digital marketing and communication. Translating insights gained from discussions and brand interaction on these channels into strategic intelligence is important to align practical, tactical and high-level planning. It’s also essential to have informed expertise in strategy and planning phases - with the right people round the table inappropriate or ineffective concepts won’t pass go.

An emotional and hyper negative community won’t credit the brand’s response to posts if they’re simply directing people to read the press statement. Your brand has to connect with its people. In this case there was actually very valuable insight to be taken from the negative comments and responses - discussion went further than taking offence at the campaign, with many deeper level issues being expressed. These valuable insights can be used to inform strategy, and even business practice and service delivery.

It can be challenging for brands to quickly adapt, realign and detour from their well-established corporate communication, but a fresh approach can be just what the doctor ordered to save your brand from debilitating PR casualties.