By Ruben Pillai
Last week, American Apparel found itself fighting a Twitter backlash
after it used the site to promote a ‘Sandy sale’ at those directly affected by
the hurricane that left parts of the US devastated. On tweeting the words “In case you’re bored during the storm, 20%
off everything for the next 36 hours”, the brand received a barrage of
complaints, with users branding the move ‘tasteless’, ‘insulting’ and ‘low’. Arguably,
its not what American Apparel did that caused the issue, but the way in which
they launched it somewhat flippantly via a tweet.
For brands, the freedom of expression that Twitter allows can be
something of a blessing or a curse. It’s great when consumers follow what you
are doing, retweet the bits they like and generally interact positively. It’s
not so great when you have to defend your name or your actions via the
Twittersphere. For this reason more and more brands are adopting a crisis
With this in mind, here are my dos
and don’ts of crisis communications management in this age of immediacy.
Do – remain calm under pressure
The recent Lance Armstrong debacle has caused a headache for every one
of his sponsors who have been forced to drop him. By far the most high profile
of these is Nike, which didn’t immediately terminate its contract with
Armstrong, but ultimately took the only available course of action in the face
of ‘insurmountable evidence’.
I think it’s quite refreshing that the brand didn’t jump straight to
conclusions and panic, instead standing by their man until the facts became
crystal clear. Usually brands bow to pressure and make quick decisions to ‘save
the brand image’, which ultimately did result in Nike dropping Armstrong a week
or so later.
Don’t – take your eye completely off the ball
Last year, WH Smith learnt a lesson the hard way, after a
Twitter user tweeted a photograph appearing to show that the retailer had moved
its copies of Gay Times and Attitude to keep them out of sight. The picture,
which was uploaded over the weekend, received hundreds of retweets, leaving the
brand to deal with a Twitter storm by the Monday morning. It quickly issued a
statement explaining its actions but by then it was too late – the damage was done.
Don’t – view social media as a secondary news channel
Livestrong used Twitter to announce that Armstrong had stepped down as chairman
in wake of the scandal, with many subsequent media reports opening with ‘Livestrong
confirms Armstrong step-down via Twitter’ or similar. Was this the correct
thing to do? With the severity and enormity of the story, was it enough to
‘just tweet’ about it and let the leaves fall as they may? I think that more
should have been made out of it, with a press conference called at the very
Do – take responsibility for social media blunders
Recently an employee from a US brand called Kitchen Aid tweeted
something unsavoury about Barack Obama. Kitchen Aid deleted the Tweet and issued an apology,
making clear that the offending tweet did not reflect the brand’s opinion. Next
up the head of Kitchen Aid talked on the record to popular tech-site Mashable
to apologise for the tweet, taking immediate responsibility. Mashable went on
to publish an infographic demonstrating how quickly mentions of the brand
reduced as the apology and media interviews were broadcast.
One final tip
I’d offer (to brands and footballers alike) is to always take a deep breath and
count to ten before sending out a tweet when emotional. Once a tweet is out
there, it can be out there for your followers and the general masses to
remember indefinitely, regardless of whether you immediately delete it or not.