How social media can be both the cause and cure of a corporate crisis.
by Stephen Dodd and Terry Foster
- Is Nokia's Iran crisis a sign of things to come?
- Can a damaged reputation be repaired?
- Is anyone really protected?
- Is social media Big Brother?
These are tough questions, prompted by increasingly frequent social media-related corporate crises, including the recent ones of Domino's Pizza, Horizon, United Airlines, and Amazon. In particular, Nokia's recent problems in Iran illustrate the new realities of corporate reputation.
Nokia: Caught in the middle
Nokia supplied Iran with technology that could be used to manage, intercept, and interpret digital traffic. After the recent hotly disputed elections, the Iranian government used this technology to identify and locate those it felt were fanning the fire against their perceived interests.
The result was a global consumer backlash against Nokia. Twitter and other social media rapidly spread negative comments. The commercial consequences were and continue to be significant, with consumers canceling services and switching to alternative devices. (See this article in last month's Measurement Standard for more details.)
Talk about being caught between the consumer and an abusive user!
Is Nokia really to blame? The technology in question is not, in and of itself, dangerous or harmful. It is likely that Nokia or its competitors have implemented the same technology in other countries as well as Iran. Although they supplied the technology, they cannot control, influence, or be responsible for how it is used once it's in the client's hands.
But that's not the reality of social media-driven public opinion.
How can Nokia resolve this?
In response to criticism, Nokia tried traditional crisis control, explaining carefully what it did and did not do. But, as for the other companies mentioned above, standard corporate protocol was not effective.
A key lesson here is that when people become passionate about an issue, opinions quickly polarize and reason rarely alters their stance.
The social web: Crisis cause and cure
The social web's ability to facilitate mass dissemination of information -- good, bad, positive, negative, right or wrong -- forces companies to take a new approach to addressing this kind of situation. Social media's ability to eliminate standard corporate-speak is the key to its ability to defuse crisis situations.
As Amber Naslund of Radian6 states, "So many of us have been waiting for years for a communication approach for business that doesn't feel contrived and scripted."
The power of the apology
People generally seem to be able to accept issues created by uncontrollable consequences when they are offered an apology. They typically will not tolerate corporate belligerence and deflection. That just creates further polarization.
If done correctly, an apology will not only stop further damage to your brand but may even increase its value in the long run. Rieva Lesonsky's blog post persuasively addresses the power of the apology: "...many entrepreneurs think they're somehow above apologizing. That attitude can easily drive you out of business."
Nokia could have avoided the deepening crisis by initially -- carefully, tactfully -- apologizing, rather than taking the standard defensive approach. Recent Ford, Pepsi, Southwest Airlines, and Coca-Cola experiences are terrific examples of how and why the apology approach can be very effective.
In a crisis situation like Nokia faced, the best course of action is to take Amber and Rieva's advice and apologize, before the crisis escalates further and irreversible damage is done to your business.
Human nature is such that is it not difficult to get a positive and empathetic reaction to a tactful apology. Therein lies the new power of the social web to redeem your company as a good corporate citizen.
Dodd is a Consultant with Muirfield Consulting.
Foster is CEO of SignUp Media.