Published on September 30, 2021, at 2:38 p.m.
by Tory Elliott.
A crisis can happen anywhere, to anyone. That is why crisis plans are a must-have for any company. According to PRNews, 62% of companies have crisis communication plans, but they might not be up to date. With social media being such an important part of many companies’ communication with consumers, they must follow best practices when it comes to social media — especially during a crisis.
Companies should be able to distinguish between a crisis and a challenge, according to Callie Corley, Jackson Spalding’s external media and crisis communication strategist. A challenge is something that is small scale and easily fixable, she said.
Katie Garcia, chief of staff and advisor at Logos Consulting Group, said that a crisis takes time and has much higher stakes. “A crisis is a turning point where you can no longer operate as usual, and depending on how you respond, you can either gain competitive advantage or suffer meaningful harm.”
When it comes to social media and crisis communication, it is important to prepare a plan ahead of time and have preventive measures in place. Crisis communication moves fast, so people need to be able to think on their feet. Social media is a place where a crisis can happen in an instant, and companies need to be hyperaware of what they are putting on social media. Online users will most likely voice their opinions, and it is important to be able to distinguish between those who are trolling and those who genuinely need help.
Corley said that “people don’t [always] come to social media for rational conversation” and that companies need to “maintain a group of trusted advisors that can provide them with honest or genuine feedback on social media posts.”
Crisis Communication in Action
Tropicana is an example of a corporation that faced a poor situation and quickly implemented its crisis communication plan to address the issue.
Tropicana, a PepsiCo-owned company, sells various flavored juices and is mostly known for its orange juice. Last December, the company launched a pandemic-related ad campaign recommending stressed parents place its orange juice with sparkling wine in hidden minifridges. The company encouraged consumers to use the #MiMoment to share their drinks on social media. Unfortunately, this campaign did not go over well with many who do not agree with sneaking drinks around their children.
The first part of its plan was to apologize. Tropicana, amidst disapproval from many sobriety advocates, knew it needed to apologize sincerely. It took to social media — including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook — to address its recent campaign. In the apology, Tropicana immediately recognized its misjudgment and explained “the intent behind it was in no way meant to imply that alcohol is the answer or make light of the struggles of addiction.”
Communication alone will never get you through a crisis; a successful plan requires a combination of action and words. Crisis communication hasn’t changed, according to Garcia, but it now requires an extra level of care to be taken seriously.
“Now there is an expectation that we are going to engage on those platforms, engage quickly and at times engage in particular ways. The expectation always is that the organization [involved] in the crisis cares. The way you demonstrate that you care has changed, and that is where social media comes in. It means that you need to reach out further and demonstrate care on different platforms than before,” Garcia explained.
Tropicana showed that it was not just apologizing because it got in trouble — it also took action. The company ceased any further communication or activity in support of the campaign. It used social media to show that Tropicana cares and wants to undo its actions, not just issue a baseless apology.
The last thing Tropicana did to ensure its apology statement was sincere was to embrace its learning curve. While Tropicana had predicted its campaign would be humorous and a huge success, it did not go over well due to the recent recognition of mental health and alcoholism. In its statement, Tropicana pledged to learn from this campaign and “use it as a lens for evaluating future campaigns.”
Eliza Heidelberg, senior account coordinator at PERITUS public relations, believes Tropicana could have taken more steps to alleviate the crisis.
“Ultimately, Tropicana showed its customers that they were listening and that they cared. If they really wanted to take this to the next level, I think they could have done some sort of partnership with a sobriety group (maybe a donation or awareness campaign) or released more concrete examples of how their team was going to learn from this crisis moving forward. However, I think they did a really good job of communicating through this crisis on social media,” Heidelberg advised.
Although its ad campaign failed, Tropicana implemented its crisis communication plan well and successfully used social media to make its statement. Nonetheless, when it comes to the most effective crisis communication, Garcia said it best: “The best-handled crises are the ones we never heard of.”