In 2014 fans of high street bakers Greggs noticed something unsavoury on the company’s Google profile.
Instead of the usual Greggs logo proudly declaring that it was ‘Always Fresh, Always Tasty’, it now suggested – because of a cyber hack – something altogether less attractive.
Greggs’ social media team promptly created the hashtag #FixGreggs and initiated a friendly online chat with Google, offering tasty treats if they could fix the problem quickly. They attached a photo of a tray loaded of doughnuts and the famous Google doodle constructed out of sausage rolls.
The response was hailed for its humour and effectiveness.
Getting it wrong
But not all firms react to a social media mishap so positively. British Gas in 2013 was widely lampooned after holding a Twitter Q&A session on the same day it announced a huge 9.2% hike in customer bills. It responded to a series of angry tweets such as ‘Does the BG board prefer to bathe in £20 or £50 notes?’ with bland responses outlining wholesale energy trends.
The British Airways Twitter team was also criticised last year when it directed customers looking for missing luggage following an IT systems breakdown to a premium phone line.
“A social media meltdown isn’t inevitable but in the age of 24-7 social connectivity, the chances of it happening are high,” says Jennifer Janson, chairman of tech PR firm Six Degrees. “Often it can be the result of a mistake such as an employee saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. It could also be a disgruntled employee who intentionally sets out to harm your brand. Today, these voices can be heard by millions, in a matter of minutes.”
Pick your channel
Martin Brown, director of business advisors Elephants Child, says part of the problem is businesses being on the wrong social media channel. “If you are a B2B firm question whether you really don’t need a Facebook account. Putting up pictures of the breakfast you’ve just eaten isn’t relevant to your business, while perhaps for a B2C company having that friendly and jovial engagement is,” he says.
“LinkedIn can be a great space for thought leadership articles but again is not an arena for gossip. You need to develop a social media policy which will identify the best channel, train your staff in posting compelling messages and having a quick and authentic response if anything goes wrong.”
Indeed, Jennifer says all businesses should have a one-page social media crisis plan including named individuals who will lead the response and contact details for a legal counsel and social media monitoring firm.
“You need to be honest and transparent, showing how you are responding and how long it might take to resolve,” she adds. “You also need to maintain respect even for those who are disparaging. It is always worth an initial response online but don’t be tempted to get into a mud-slinging match. Always endeavour to have a real conversation, offline, when an issue has been identified.”
Speed is also crucial. When it comes to Twitter and Facebook a business should aim to respond to each comment well within an hour. “Sound human in your responses as corporate robot-speak or standard holding statements never go down well,” Jennifer explains. “But, if you are using humour, tread very carefully as it takes tremendous skill to get it right with such a wide audience.”