Social media completely changes the ways in which a brand can interact with their audience. Where before a brand or company would have needed to hold a press conference in order to release a message and then go through letters and responses that people sent in, now they can simply post a status update or even a press release on Twitter or Facebook and their audience will immediately know what is going on. Social media also gives the audience a way to interact with the company and make sure that their thought are heard immediately and not just down the line.
This is exactly what happened earlier this week when Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus announced that they would be pulling Ivanka Trump’s line from their stores. Both stores were subjected to calls from a boycott movement called #GrabYourWallet which tracked companies that have ties to president Trump’s business interests and encourages customers not to buy from these stores. Quickly after this list was released the hashtag took off on Twitter and it was soon mainstream news. Customers all over were calling for a boycott of these stores because they had any sort of tie to Trump. Soon after both Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus both declared that they would stop selling Ivanka Trump’s line but stopped short of saying it was for political reasons. Both brands PR professionals claimed that the pull of the products had nothing to do with a political message they were trying to send but only had to do with the sales of that brand in the stores. They claimed that since last year the sales of this line had been steadily dropping to the point of it not being worth it to keep the merchandise on the floor. Here is the full statement that Neiman Marcus released after deciding to drop the line. Both companies are adamant that the pull of this merchandise was only based on performance, but it is obvious that they were feeling pressure from consumers to dump the brand.
This whole story is a great example of how social media can cause a crisis instead of solving it. Of course people would have still known that Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus were carrying Ivanka Trump’s brand either way when they went into the stores. But the reason that this issue spread so fast and the companies felt the need to stop selling the products so quickly was because of this movement that only took off because of social media. It is definitely possible that part of the reason is because the brand was not selling but social media really put the pressure on these companies to either stop selling the brand or lose customers. Without it customers would not have known to boycott these stores on such a large scale and the companies may never have noticed that people were upset about it.
Sometimes something that does not seem like it should be a big issue, blows up entirely because of the use of social media. One person gets a hold of something, makes a comparison and shares it on social media and suddenly a company has a full blown scandal on their hands. If the company reacts quickly enough and in the right manner it is very easy to avoid scandal when an issue is really small.
This is exactly what happened in the case of JCP and the teapot that looked like something I am sure not one intended. The teapot bore a slight resemblance to Adolf Hitler, which is not something that a company would want one of their products looking like. A reddit user in Southern California noticed the resemblance when seeing the tea kettle on a billboard off of the 405 freeway and shared his thoughts online. The issue quickly took off on reddit and had many responses because so many people were talking about it. It moved from reddit to other social media sights very quickly and soon big news outlets were picking up on it.
Although this is not what most would call a crisis because it was so small JC Penny responded immediately and in the proper manner. They took to their social media accounts and decided not to take themselves too seriously since it was not a super serious issue at hand. The company tweeted that “If we designed it to look like something, we would have gone with a snowman or something fun :)”. They knew that their audience just wanted to hear from them about the issue and see how the company was going to react so they responded in the most light-hearted manner that they could, to make sure that the issue did not get out of hand too quickly. People thought that this slip up was so funny that the tea kettle actually sold out online before JC Penny decided to take it down. They also had all of the bill boards displaying this tea pot taken down.
This is a perfect example of how to properly crisis communicate. JC Penny saw that there was a problem that they could handle and made sure to handle it immediately. Not only did they make sure that the issue was handled they did it in a manner that made they connected with their audience and made sure their audience felt understood. By taking to Twitter and almost making a joke out of the whole incident they made sure their audience knew that this was not intentional and that they did not do it to offend anyone. Also when their audience knew that the company was making a joke about it the tea kettle actually sold out because people thought the coincidence was so funny. So in the end this whole debacle turned into a great thing for JC Penny because they were able to gain more revenue through selling all of the tea pots and connect with their audience using humor.
With social media growing bigger every day it is important for companies and individuals to keep in mind what is appropriate and what is not for their personal image on social media. We see many mistakes on social media everyday because people do not know how to properly use it even after having it around for so many years. Many companies and individuals have made the mistake of putting something out on social media only to have it backfire because it is inappropriate or their audience does not understand it. There are many things that people are still getting wrong on social media but here are the top things that companies and people are still doing on social media:
To start, a company or person must identify their target audience. If a company or person is not aware of their audience, it is impossible to properly direct content. The content will be scattered and it will be a waste of time to even post it, because nothing will get accomplished through scattered posting. Your audience will not understand the message you are trying to convey because you are not fully connected to them.
Next a company or person who is trying to establish their own brand cannot just use the same content across every social media platform. Every social media platform is designed for a different kind of content so therefore the same content should not be used on every account, otherwise your audience will get bored with seeing the same content over and over.
You also want to make sure that nothing that you are posting is inappropriate. Someone may think that they are funny but their intended audience may not understand the joke that is being told and it may come off as offensive. Donald Trump for example before he became president tweeted some things that he might have found funny but that offended a lot of people on social media.
It is also important when managing your social media accounts to make sure you have a plan as to what content you will be posting and to make sure you put energy into the correct plan. A company needs to make sure they have experienced people working on their social media and make sure that they have a proper plan on what is going to be posted on each account.
Lastly in order to keep your audience engaged a company or person must make sure to respond to their audience on social media. If a company or person does not respond to comments or posts from their audience, the audience will lose interest and not continue to follow your brand.
All of these mistakes are important to crisis communication through social media. A person or company may be able to avoid a crisis in general if they make sure they are not making these mistakes. But even if a crisis does occur as long as they have these parts of social media under control, they should be able to respond properly to the situation at hand. Companies and people who are trying to build their own personal brands need to make sure they have these mistakes under control to be able to put their best foot forward on social media to their audience.
Over this past weekend President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. After this executive order was pushed through the Taxi Workers’ Alliance, a nonprofit union that represents over 50,000 New York City taxi drivers asked their members to halt work at the airport between 6 and 7 pm to voice their opposition against Trump’s policies. About a half an hour after the stoppage of taxis Uber tweeted that it had turned off surge pricing- a system where fares increase automatically according to demand- around the airport. Immediately after Uber tweeted this people on twitter were accusing the company of attempting to profit off protesting cab drivers by making it cheaper for customers to get a ride from the airport. This was followed by many users calling to #deleteuber and many even posted screenshots of them doing just that or registering for Ubers competitor, Lyft.
Many of those who did decide to delete and boycott Uber had other reasons for doing it as well. Many said that they were boycotting because Uber’s CEO Tracis Kalanick has been involved with Trump’s advisory board and that when they saw the company try to profit off of the protests that was the last straw for them. This call to delete Uber seemed to be working very quickly at least for a little while by spreading through Twitter to people all over the country and the world.
Early Sunday morning Uber tweeted this apology about the incident and pointed towards Kalanick’s Facebook post, in which he claimed that the company was working hard to identify drivers who were from the seven countries affected by the ban. Along with posting this on Facebook the CEO also took to Twitter on Sunday morning to talk about how the ban is “against everything that Uber stands for” and that he would do what he could to pressure the president to “stand up for what is right” when Kalanick has his next meeting with the president. Kalanick also said that Uber would compensate any drivers for lost earnings that were unable to work because of the ban and set up a $3 million legal defense fund against the ban. It has also now just been publicized that Kalanick decided to step down from Trump’s advisory board because of what happened and it being seen as an endorsement of the current administration.
In his Facebook post Kalanick did emphasize how important he feels it is to work with Trump, which is a decidedly different stance than Uber’s competitor Lyft took on this issue. Lyft instead emailed customers on Sunday morning condemning the executive order and making it known exactly where the company stands on this issue. Lyft also announced in this email that they will be donating $1 million to the ACLU over the next four years in the wake of this executive order.
Looking at this situation from a crisis communications stand point I feel like Uber did a very good job in reacting to a situation once it had already happened. It is still unclear whether or not the original tweet was sent out in order to try and take advantage of the situation at the airport or if they were just trying to inform their customers that the surge pricing would not be happening because of the situation. I think that the problems that Uber came across were amplified by the fact that their CEO has been talking to the president, who is obviously widely disliked by the people who were protesting at the airport. But I think that once the hashtag started Uber acted quickly in getting an apology statement out from both the company and the CEO. The company also made sure the public was aware that this was a misunderstanding that the company is working to fix as soon as possible.
Last year during the Oscar nomination season it came to light the little amount of actors of color that have been nominated for an Oscar in the whole history of the award show. Before 2015 the last year when a non-white actor was nominated in the lead or supporting actor category was 1998, which is far too long when you think about the amount of actors of color that have been on all the movies over the last 17 years. To make things worse in the 88 years that the Academy Awards has been happening only 14 African American have won acting Oscars. The winners pool is even shallower for actors of other minorities.
These surprising facts were what spawned the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite during the nominations for last years Academy Awards. When this hashtag first appeared the academy did not really do anything to talk to the public about what was happening or try to control the crisis at hand at all. Because the academy did not step up and try to control the situation many celebrities decided to boycott the actually Academy Awards event. Among celebrities who decided to boycott were Will and Jada Pinkett Smith. For a full list of celebrities who decided to boycott or spoke out about the Academy Awards in 2016 look here.
After the hashtag went viral at last years Academy Awards and several celebrities refused to attend the pressure was on to see if the list of nominees would be more inclusive for this years Oscars. When the list of nominations was released the list was a bit more diverse including Octavia Spector, Denzel Washington and Barry Jenkins all taking home nominations. But according to many insiders they find that the fight for fair representation for people of every diversity is far from over. There are still a number of communities that are under represented in the Academy Awards nominations list this year and that will be the real battle.
This hashtag was a great example of how audiences can use social media to change the norms in our culture. The creation of this hashtag brought this problem to the forefront of a lot of people’s minds because it was something people may not have thought about before. Not only did this hashtag bring it to the public’s attention it also brought the problem to the academy’s mind, which many people think is part of the reason for the more diverse nominations on this years ballot for the Academy Awards. Before this hashtag a lot of people in the Academy probably did not consider the fact that the nominations were not very diverse, so this hashtag changes the cultural norms around what the nominations are supposed to be. Social media plays a very important role in this whole story because without social media the hashtag that made this story so real would not have existed.
Now my question is if the Academy had been on top of what was happening with their audience and had been able to respond to their complaints, would the whole hashtag fiasco never have occurred? The Academy never responded to the hashtag or any complaints from their audience and although the nominations do seem more inclusive this year, that could just be by chance because of the movies that have been released in the past year. If the Academy was more responsive to their audience in the first place this hashtag may have never blown up the way that it did, celebrities would not have boycotted the event and the Academy would not be having the problems with their audience that they are having now.
For my first blog post, I decided to take a look back at a case that caught my attention in the media years ago, where crisis communication was used through social media in the best way possible. Southwest Airlines generally does pretty well in dealing with crisis and using social media to help reach out to their client base. In 2013 federal investigators found that a Southwest Airlines jet made a hard landing at LaGuardia Airport when it touched down on its front wheel before the sturdier main landing gear in the back touched down. This nose-pointed-down landing violated the airline’s normal procedure and the plane with 150 passengers skidded off the runway and came to rest on its nose after the front landing gear fell apart. Of the 150 passengers only about 16 suffered minor injuries from the odd landing. To read more about the incident you can look at this article.
After this event Southwest took directly to social media to get a hands on approach to this crisis. The company had quick response time through Facebook and Twitter and provided open and honest communication to their customers. This strategy was key in helping the brand control what was being said and maintain a good reputation with their customers.
After quickly sending out messages through social media telling customers that they recognized the situation, that they were handling it and that more information would be released as soon as it was available, customers had a very good response. Most of the comments included notes of support and appreciation for Southwest’s fast and open communication with its customers. Customers reacted incredibly well to the situation that was at hand because Southwest was so open in their communication to their audience.
This specific case is important because it not only shows a good use of crisis communication through social media, it also shows what can happen when the crisis communication is done properly. Southwest was so quick and honest to respond to the problem that none of their customers held the situation against them. They were able to show that they are a trustworthy company even though something not so great happened and by reacting quickly they were able to keep the public on their side. They were also able to almost completely keep the public on their side of the case and make them understand what was happening and why, which is the reason that companies crisis communicate.
As far as from the perspective of a student who is looking to get involved in crisis communication after graduation, this case study really shows me and other students how important social media is becoming in the crisis communications world. If it were not for social media in this case Southwest probably would not have had as many of their customers still on their side because it would have been harder to come off as open and honest. Social media gave them the ability to respond quickly and accurately to the situation which is what put them in a good place in their audiences’ eyes. For me or someone like me who wants to get involved in crisis communication it is important to see how much social media affects that part of public relations. It is also important for us to always be looking at the ways that social media can affect the way a company is viewed in the public eye. Southwest did a great job of making sure that their company was still respected after this incident and it was all possible because of their successful use of social media.
As an aspiring public relations professional and social media enthusiast I am looking to use this blog to expand my skills with writing and website editing. I will be using this blog to post twice weekly for one of my public relations classes in the School of Journalism and Communications at the University of Oregon. Each week I will have one post related to a topic given by my professor, Kathryn Kuttis, and one that I chose to write about myself.
For my own personal posts, I will be posting about how companies and individuals use social media to manage ongoing crisis. As a student at the school of Journalism and Communications who is interested in crisis communications, which is a hard field to get hands on experience in as a student, I will be taking a closer look at different case studies and examples in the real world through the lens of a student in the pr world. I hope that this blog gives other students with an interest in crisis communications an insight into the industry that they would not be able to get otherwise.
As Vice President of Communications for Pi Beta Phi I was in charge of writing a short submission four times a year for the organizations national magazine and was also in charge of managing our chapter’s website. I was also in charge of writing and editing multiple blog posts for the Allen Hall Public Relations blog. These tasks have given me experience in both writing and website design which I think will help me in running this blog successfully. Although I do have some experience in writing and running a website I am looking forward to this opportunity to be able to improve my skills and use them in a more public relations based setting.