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If Disaster Hits, Is Your Social Media Team Ready?

When negative issues spiral out of control in social media it can have devastating effects. Bad news can spread like a virus to thousands or even millions of people in minutes. Some crises may be caused by problems within your control; others you can't do anything to help directly. What can you do to avoid, or failing that, manage social media disasters?

It’s a problem that affects the bottom line; social media crises can have a real affect on your share price. As reported in the McKinsey article Demystifying Social Media, last year a hoax photograph was posted online, claiming that McDonald’s was charging African-Americans an additional service fee. After appearing on Twitter, the image went viral just before the weekend, re-tweeted and shared thousands of times. On Saturday, the company’s director of social media released a statement through Twitter declaring the photograph to be a hoax. The social media team asked key influencers to let their followers know about the hoax and continued to reinforce that message over the weekend. They even responded personally to many individual Tweeters. By the end of the weekend, they'd quashed the rumour, and on the following Monday McDonald’s stock price rose 5 percent.

Last week, Conversocial sponsored the Social Media for Customer Service Summit in London. I chaired a session with Catharine van Dijk, Social Media Manager at KLM, who spoke about avoiding social media crises. I'm sure you remember the volcanic ashcloud that disrupted flights across Europe in April 2010. KLM will never forget it. A few months before, they had tentatively launched a Facebook page and Twitter account. When the volcano struck, their phonelines were clogged, and their website started crashing under the weight of so many desperate passengers looking for help.

To KLM's surprise, their customers moved to social media to get help. They didn’t want to let them down, and managed to put together an emergency response team with 150 volunteers – from senior managers to runway workers – who worked around the clock for 48 hours to give passengers all the help they needed straight over Facebook and Twitter. They weren’t just giving information – they were even able to rebook flights.  

These efforts paid off. KLM helped thousands and thousands of customers directly through social media, keeping customers happy and maintaining brand loyalty in what could otherwise have been a disastrous episode for the company. 

This close shave proved the value of social media to KLM’s management. They went on to set up a cross-functional social media hub, with staff from communications, marketing and customer service. The social customer service team provides help to customers over Facebook and Twitter twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. 

KLM’s social media team has defined which issues customer service agents can deal with day to day, and which could potentially escalate to become a widespread problem. These messages are escalated to 'issue managers' who can deal with higher-level problems and ensure the company response is appropriate. If a frequent flyer is tweeting about bad service, for example, they will shift gears to ensure the real problems are resolved (e.g. speaking to the first class lounge manager to get the problem fixed), and then show how they're helping in public responses. 

For emergency issues (ash clouds, plane crashes etc) the social team goes into listening mode – nothing is posted to social networks until they have a full understanding of the situation. They've prepared for some specific scenarios, but can't predict everything  When an emergency hits, KLM's social media manager has a direct line to the executive team, to feed back what they're hearing in social and to formulate the company response as quickly as possible. 

These stories show the importance of around the clock social media monitoring and engagement. Having a trained, dedicated social media team (with real customer service agents) monitoring and responding to customers openly and honestly, 24/7, with the ability to communicate directly to PR and comms teams, will ensure that issues are spotted and resolved before they get out of control. Your customers don't stop just because your agents have clocked off - and with their issues being shared and talked about publicly, the risk of not responding is higher than ever before. 

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