Morally Bankrupt Sociopath. Douche. Dirtbag. Poster Boy For Drug Company Greed. These are just a few of the brickbats Martin Shkreli won after his showdown on social (and mainstream) media. Social media is one of the best platforms to reach out to your customers (and the general public), but only when used wisely. Or, it can be like holding a gun to your head. This was certainly the case for Martin Shkreli, as his antics on Twitter and Reddit caused great uproar across America.
The CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals became America’s Most Hated CEO overnight after he bought a company that made a rare AIDS drug and increased its price by 5000%. But that alone wasn’t the problem. The true problem arose when Shkreli took to Twitter and started handling the crisis by quoting Eminem, faking injuries, and badmouthing the public, politicians, et al. This is when trouble started as he and his amateurish responses became an object of censure for most people with an opinion, including the most remotely-sensitive.
Can you imagine the CEO of a pharmaceutical company talking like a rapper, or worse, worrying about his pictures at a time when the whole nation is up in arms against him?
But it is not always a person who messes up on social media – there are many more infamous examples of companies making the same mistakes. In the days when brands were new to social media, we’ve seen them commit some major faux pas; AppleBee and KitchenAid were amongst the more scandalous. However, whether you freeze and continue to remain clueless or clean up the mess and start afresh depends on you.
One of the most recent examples of social media suicide comes from a French TV channel. In a bid to boast that most of their presenters were women (and show off that they endorsed gender equality), France 3 released a TV ad… and tweeted it.
Below are a few screenshots captured from their video. The storyline of the commercial was pretty sexist. They showed a messy kids’ bedroom, burning oven, clothes on fire, and pretty much a house in chaos, because – wait for it – “elles sont sur France 3” i.e. “they (women of the house) are on France 3.”
Needless to say, this backfired on a massive scale, inviting criticism on social media. Can you imagine Twitteratis leaving anyone alone after such a sexist ad like this? Soon, the internet went twitter-happy – uh, trigger-happy – and strong condemnations started pouring out.
Translation: Does being “feminine” mean doing household chores? Worse: being so stupid so as to forget an iron that can burn the house down?
The worst part was that despite the outrage, the TV channel neither took down their video nor apologized to people. While Martin Shkreli spoke too much and too rashly, France 3 was silent throughout the whole debacle and both are unacceptable behaviors on social media.
These two examples are why many companies resist social media. But we also have an example where a large internet-based retailer put social media to good use. If you haven’t guessed it yet, it’s Amazon.
Amazon was criticized by NYT on their work culture in a no-less-than-6000-words article. The investigation was said to have been carried on for 6 months and a lot of ex- and current Amazon employees were interviewed.
Amazon maintained stoic silence for almost two months after the article was published. However, in between loyal Amazonians and their CEO’s internal memo were widely publicized. After everyone thought that Amazon was not going to say anything publicly, their PR Head, Jay Carney, took to Medium to share his view on the NYT report with a short but highly impactful post.
From the choice of their media platform (for those of you who were thinking what this had to do with social media) to the timing, a lot of people as well as PR experts actually applauded the way Amazon handled the backlash. It was transparent and mature. Whether it was factually correct is an altogether different matter.
The Show Must Go On
This example proves that using social media in times of a PR crisis is not wrong in itself when handled honestly and maturely. But you need to follow certain unspoken guidelines before you hit the Post button.
- How many times have you heard it – prevention is better than cure. A social media monitoring, management and tracking suite like Oktopost can help you stay on top of critical conversations around your brand and industry, your customers’ pain points, aspirations, beliefs and misunderstandings. You then have the time and opportunity to respond to these with the right answers.
- Social media can fire up viral behavior and get people riled up easily. This is why it is very important to hold back your opinions and response until you have consulted your PR team, if you happen to find yourself in a mess. A PR expert can craft a carefully-worded statement that can help you from slipping into the abyss further.
- Very important: Don’t delete any negative comments others have left.
- Timing is everything. While it may be easy to get carried away and tweet your views, you need to wait until you have assessed the situation fully and gotten all your facts right. On the other hand, in cases that merit a witty response or an apology, you don’t want the moment to pass.
- The platform is not unlike a battleground, when it comes to a PR crisis. Choose the right medium, channel or network, depending on the type of industry you are in, the type of crisis, and where your audience is engaged in the most scathing attacks. For instance, in case of France 3, since the fiasco had started on Twitter, it would be apt if they’d replied there. In Amazon’s case, they had little control over the proprietary platform where the debate began, so they were free to choose any platform they wanted. And they chose Twitter’s professional cousin, Medium. You can use multiple digital and non-digital channels to share your opinions and make sure your voice is heard over the noise.
- If you’re actively using social media for promotion and marketing, stop all other posts and campaigns until are the storm has passed and crisis averted.
- Lastly but most importantly, always make sure you connect with your employees during a crisis and keep them updated. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos sent a memo to his employees the very next day. In the age of video, a more palpable and effective approach would be to hold a videoconference with key people and employees. Tools such as Clickmeeting allow moderated one-on-one or private chats over the internet, regardless of the devices or systems they’re using. These also come with simultaneous multilingual translation so your global employees get the gist of your message and there are no awkward gaps in your conversation. Parts of such a meeting could be recorded and eventually released to the general public and press.
The immutable truth is that no company is immune to crises that emerge or escalate due to social media. A few years back, we waited for prime time news to hear what a company’s spokesperson had to say but in today’s real-time world where everything happens instantly, people expect to hear from you “as it happens.”
Although a few companies are still learning how to use social media to their benefit, we have seen enough contrasting examples over the past few years that show us how a brand can emerge triumphant or dig a grave for themselves on social media during a PR crisis.
No two situations are alike, so no two solutions would be too. While it is important to act quickly at crunch time, it is equally important to act cautiously, and with honesty and integrity. If you face yourself at PR crossroads, find out what other companies in your industry or region did to handle similar predicaments. Put in place and make full use of CRM and PR software and processes. Consult your PR team before every major move, public-facing or otherwise. If you haven’t got one, hire a PR agency as soon as you sense a risk, and follow through until any misfortune is well and fully averted.