The short answer: Yes. SeaWorld's social media efforts prove their worth yet again, this time in saving reputation and blunting the impact of a crisis.
A trainer was killed recently by a killer whale at SeaWorld, an apparent accident. Despite the usual weigh-ins by PR pundits about how horrible the situation is -- and there is no doubt that it is horrible -- it's hardly the PR disaster they forecast. The reason is social media.
Ever since SeaWorld took the social media plunge with Kami Huyse’s help several years ago, and thereby realized the value of having direct conversations with roller coaster bloggers, SeaWorld has been an object lesson in the measurable benefits of social media for marketing. With this tragic accident, SeaWorld's social media efforts are proving their worth yet again, this time in saving reputation and blunting the impact of a crisis. (And I'm not the only one who thinks so, see this article by Beth Kassab.)
Over the past few years, SeaWorld has developed relationships with a sizable community of fans on Facebook, on their blogs, and on Twitter. Thanks to this web of support, SeaWorld has had a virtual army of people agreeing with its decisions and defending its brand. In fact, when they pulled down the Twitter handle @shamu -- explaining that under the tragic circumstances it just wasn’t appropriate to continue Tweets from someone pretending to be a killer whale -- there were lots of fans who still wanted to hear from "Shamu."
Yes, of course there were posts and comments that disagreed with SeaWorld's decision to not put the offending whale down, or to release it. And yes, there are animal rights groups using the crisis to advocate for their point of view. But, the negative comments are being overwhelmed by a flood of sympathy and support for the victim’s family, and of support for SeaWorld's actions.
By coming out quickly and openly, by having a social media community to rely upon, by sharing decisions with all publics, and by making senior management available throughout (including answering all tweets and blog and Facebook comments) SeaWorld has been the quintessential 21st century company in a crisis. Toyota and many other organizations could and should learn a lesson or two here.
Will SeaWorld lose some customers? Yes, but not many. Are they getting bad press? Yes, but it's going away quickly. In short, they’re doing everything right. My guess is that Toyota will suffer much more in their current crisis than will SeaWorld in this one. Chalk another one up to social media and the value of good relationships with your publics. --Katie Delahaye Paine