Before getting to the right way of doing things, let's take a look at some infamous online disasters:
Lewis Hamilton is a champion racing car driver with 5.7 million followers. You’d think if you had that many people following your movements you’d probably consider things carefully before posting. In December, he posted a video of himself publicly shaming his nephew for wearing a dress. Suffice to say it did not go down well. It became a double shaming, as people then shamed Lewis for shaming his nephew. However, one good thing to come out of the backlash from this was a huge discussion around how far to take shaming, and the power of the online lynch mob.
Virgin Trains staff showed how not to respond to a sexist complaint, by making the situation worse. When a customer tweeted her dislike at being called ‘honey’ by a member of staff, Virgin Trains tweeted back a shockingly sarcastic reply saying, "sorry for the mess up Emily, would you prefer 'pet' or 'love' next time?" This didn’t impress their customers too much and caused a huge amount of anger and discontent.
Perhaps the most famous example of a Tweet that went terribly wrong and resulted in epic public shaming was by Justine Sacco. She tweeted, "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!" before hopping on a plane. When she landed, her epic error came to light, and she was hit with a huge onslaught of abuse.
During her flight the comment was retweeted 2,000 times, and people started the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet because they wanted to see her reaction when she realized her error. She was also promptly fired from her job, ironically, in the public relations business.
The uber cool TV and film streaming service was recently criticized for tweeting creepy stats about its customers. Such as the fact that 53 people watched A Christmas Prince every day for 18 days. They may not be breaking any privacy laws, but this raised questions over what info about their customers they should and shouldn’t share.
Back in 2009, a video was released on YouTube of two Domino's employees doing unpleasant things to the food they were preparing. It was pretty shocking for customers to see and quickly got picked up by the worldwide media. But Domino's have had a comeback since then. In the short term, they set up a Twitter account at the time to deal with questions. Now the brand now has 1.25 million followers on Twitter and has managed to claw their way back from the scandal.
Oldham Borough council got it right by making a seemingly mundane topic – road gritters – suddenly interesting. They asked the public to name their gritters. After posting a picture of their Mitsubishi Fuso on Twitter and asking for suggestions, the public came up with some hilarious suggestions.
There’s an age-old notion that if people are talking about you, even in a negative way, it’s a good thing. Whether this is true or not, how you initially react to bad publicity will determine how much fire you’ll end up having to fight.
Recently (news hit Twitter on 11 January 2018) June Kenton of UK lingerie brand Rigby & Peller published a book called ‘Storm in a D Cup’ containing very mild personal accounts of her dealings with the Royal family, in contravention of the terms of her Royal Warrant. Consequently, the brand has been stripped of its warrant, became a news story and trended for a week on Twitter, with many people poking fun at the brand. We’re intrigued to see where Rigby & Peller will go with this, but they are definitely getting a lot of publicity out of it.
In 2015, hackers leaked the names of 30 million people who were using infidelity website Ashley Madison, causing a huge storm, shaming thousands of married men and women and making their ‘anonymous’ service not so anonymous. Did it kill off Ashley Madison? Far from it. The brand is bigger than ever.
Ever watched the film Borat? It pokes fun at the country Kazakhstan but, after the film came out, Hotels.com reported a 300% increase in requests for information about the country. Often, it’s the smaller brands that do better from bad publicity, even if it is from a Twitterstorm. In fact, researchers at Stanford Graduate School of Business say that bad publicity can occasionally increase sales for lesser known brands.
The thing about crowds is that they usually want to get some sort of response out of their shame.
Some people bury their head in the sand in the hope that their persecutors will simply get bored. But the problem with the internet is that everyone has an opinion, so even if you aren’t talking about your scandal, other people will be – and you may want to take action to manage that.
Some may try to ignore the mass hysteria, while others may try to get rid of the evidence, or fight it before it goes viral. This often backfires, resulting in the Streisand effect – when an individual or organization tries to take something down or apply legal pressure, and it only results in more attention being paid to the asset in question.
It’s clear that small and large businesses alike need to have clear preventative policies, as well as crisis management procedures. Dedicated playbooks on when to engage with genuine queries and comments, and when to steer clear of trolls.
According to the 2017 WASP Barcode Technologies’ State of Small Business Report, only 37% of small businesses said they use designated business social media accounts to reach their audiences. Brands need to be reachable on Twitter to respond to customer complaints in a constructive way. Twitter users send more than 100,000 questions, complaints, and comments to major American airlines alone every month.
It’s certainly worth having a designated employee who is responsible for responding to issues. And, if you’ve got a social media team, each and every member needs to be on board with your management strategy.
Lastly, here’s an example from close to home. When fashion brand Vetements used the DHL logo in their fashion line, instead of taking legal action and calling out Vetements, DHL jumped at the opportunity for a collaboration. The result was a huge success, with the Vetements DHL shirts selling out and fetching around $252.
News outlets around the world covered the unusual collaboration avidly. Bloggers and celebrities tweeted pictures in their DHL t-shirts and the line was in extremely high demand with people scrambling to buy Vetements clothing.
The Georgia-born founders of ground-breaking design collective Vetements had a dream of taking every day, ordinary garments, and turning them into a bold fashion statement. They utilised DHL’s famous yellow and red logo in fashion’s most surprising capsule collection, with celebrities, fashion figures and influential bloggers snapping up the Vetements ‘DHL’ T-shirt.
Read the full exclusive interview with the founders of Vetements, brothers Demna and Guram Gvasalia: Vetements x DHL: fashion’s most surprising partnership.
So take heart; it seems you can come back from any Twitterstorm if you pick the right strategy. The key takeaway here is to make sure all your staff are informed, that there’s a proofing and approval process for social media posts (with specific topics to avoid), and a clear plan of action for when people make unfortunate mistakes. And, just maybe, you could turn a storm into some sunshine.
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