Simple mistake x social media = PR nightmare.


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[READ TIME 5 mins]

Simple mistake x social media = PR nightmare

You have probably heard about “the Sainsburys 50p challenge poster”. If not you can read about it here. In summary, a poster intended to encourage staff to get customers to spend just 50p more, was put up in a store window.

Another recent example was Salesforce’s recent #NA14 5 hour outage.  As well as the outage, customers lost five hours of data (according to their Salesforce Trust website) and probably millions of dollars in worker productivity and potential new sales. Mark Smith, CEO of Ventana Research wrote an excellent post with some great recommendations

Mistakes happen.  But amplified by social media they become a rapidly escalating PR issue which is hard to contain.

But what was their response?

Sainsbury’s spokeswoman said: “We often use posters to make store targets fun and achievable for our colleagues. They are intended for colleague areas in the store, but this one was mistakenly put on public display.” 

Salesforce did not substantively communicate to customers and users while all business using Salesforce was at a complete standstill. The company did nothing to relieve the internal confusion and panicky communications within organizations that wanted to know what was going on. This was, apparently, because their customer information was on the servers that were taken out. 

Is that it?

In the new social media world PR issues can flare up very quickly. Neither company seemed to have clearly documented and accessible processes or plans that anticipates such a problem which can be quickly picked up and applied. Rather like a fire drill or earthquake drill.

In California we practice earthquake drills regularly. A planned response to a known threat. But the chance of  an earthquake is now lower than the chance of a mistake that gets turned into a PR nightmare.

Companies practice fire drills regularly – “a planned response to a known threat”. But the chance of a fire is way lower than the chance of a mistake that gets turned into a PR nightmare. So why don’t companies have a set of processes that have been planned and documented? Here are some reasons:

  • It won’t happen to us: REALLY?
  • Not important enough: It is not life threatening, like a fire. But surely it is certainly a big enough risk to want to mitigate it
  • No one is clearly responsible for it: It falls between CEO, VP Operations and VP Marketing.
  • Priorities: We are too busy and other things are more important – like the next marketing campaign, press release or tweet
  • Too hard to think about: A fire drill is easy in comparison. Check the bell works. Check there are fire extinguishers. Pick a meeting point. A properly planned and coordinated response to a PR nightmare is more complex

So why don’t companies have a set of processes that have been planned and documented in advance which define how to respond to a PR issue? With all these things, it is not hard to do when everyone is calm and people are thinking straight.  So why not do it before the sh!t hits the fan. Because if it hasn’t hit it yet – it probably will do at some point soon.

So get it written down, and practice it.  NOW.

A little helping hand.

We have documented a multi-level process that at least gets people started thinking about how they would respond. Very happy to invite you to copy the map in Elements: ping me an email igotts@elements.cloud