Prepare well in peace time, have a safety net of positive influencers to handle social media crisis, says the PR Guru panel

Welcome to this month's PR Guru where we ask how to handle a social media crisis. The wider PR Guru panel includes:

Kunal Kishore Sinha, founder director, Value 360 Communications Pvt. Ltd.
Gayatri Rath, director, corporate communications and citizenship, Microsoft India
Deepa Thomas, vice president, communications and CSR, Nissan Motor India
Paroma Roy Chowdhury, vice president, public affairs –SoftBank
Sujit Patil, vice president and head of corporate communications Godrej Industries Limited and Associate companies
Sonia Dhawan, DGM: marketing & PR at Paytm
Shravani Dang, vice president & global group head of corporate communications at the Avantha Group
Aniruddha Atul Bhagwat, co-founder & director, Ideosphere Consulting Private Limited.

Specifically, we'd like to thank Godrej’s Sujit Patil, SoftBank’s Paroma Roy Chowdhury and Value 360’s Kunal Kishore Sinha for stopping by this week. make sure you don’t miss the #PRGuru Twitter chat on Friday 2nd September, 2016 at 4 PM

How do we curb a crisis? With word of mouth catching like wildfire, how do we fix a situation that has broken on social media.
Ritwik Sharma, The Practice

Expert Advice...

Paroma Roy Chowdhury, vice president, public affairs –SoftBank

  • Build relationships in peace time, so that you can bank on them when real crisis hits.
  • Issue a clarification /response/rebuttal as soon as possible. Helps curb rumor mongering and doesn't make you look helpless and unresponsive.
  • If it's a rebuttal, needs to be swift and hard and tackled at the highest level possible. Till date, I pick up the phone and talk to editors/senior journalists myself. And it needs to be done on social media simultaneously, or first. Twitter can really help. A bad example were the early days of Maggi crisis when Nestle was completely silent.

If it's a really big crisis, having a high level spokesperson really helps as it shows that the company is taking it seriously and builds trust. But it can backfire badly, unless used judiciously. A good example was Coke and Pepsi using their CEOs to tackle the ground water poisoning crisis. 

Sujit Patil, vice president and head of corporate communications, Godrej Industries Limited and Associate companies

The maxim “precaution is better than cure” always works. More so in a crisis and even more so in a social media crisis situation!

In this digital age, with word of mouth catching like wildfire, the outcomes can be detrimental.  As a cure, efficient monitoring and listening systems, an effective escalation mechanism and a quick response capability are a must. For me, monitoring and analysis of the narratives on the social space (during an incident) have in more than one case revealed that the tonality is not as bad as one may assume. Most often they are just blind forwards or retweets which nobody opens. Word of mouth is dangerous but usually short lived (unless it is not treated/responded on time like a popular kid’s food brand). So keeping a cool head and taking response decisions based on analysis of the banter rather than getting hyper-excited that a crisis has struck, generally works.

While all this is easier said than done, on many occasions, just keeping quiet and being observant has worked as against responding impulsively and fueling the fire even more. Following the basic principles of being honest, transparent, responsive and in some of the cases simply owning up (if you are at fault) and empathetically apologizing can curb the spread of the word.

From a precaution point of view, it is imperative that all vulnerabilities are mapped and mitigation plans / escalation mechanisms are in place. Crisis preparedness and a well-oiled periodic rehearsal process is the key. Also, safety nets (positive advocates/influencers) proactively created in the social space help in a big way to neutralize negative narratives.

Kunal Kishore Sinha, founder director, Value 360 Communications

In a world where news - good, bad and often invalidated - goes viral very easily, it is imperative for all brand marketers to have a robust social media strategy in place. We have dealt with situations where speculative stories on some of our clients have been blown out of proportion and much of it has to do with information asymmetry. In such a situation, what is needed is a concise and effective communication plan. 

In synchrony with the leadership of the brand, we always send out a clear message on behalf of our clients in case any untoward news does break out. The idea is to let all stakeholders know that the business is aware of the stories that are doing the rounds and is in complete control of the situation.

We always recommend that our clients respond to the crisis on the platform where it breaks out and complement this response with all other media. For instance, if a crisis breaks out through Twitter, it is advisable to first respond in tweets and then support your claims with links to other long-form content, be it a blog post on the company blog or a crisis-related FAQ section that has been created on the company website. This accurately projects the business as an entity that acknowledges everything that is being said about it, is confident of its stance and its ability to handle the anomaly, and is therefore lucid and vocal about its views on the situation.

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