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From BlogWell: Graco: Communicating with Social Media in a Time of Crisis

This is the last of my posts from the BlogWell conference (a conference covering big brands and how they use social media, held in Cincinnati last week).  Kelly Voelker, Brand Manager, PR & Social Media at Graco shared their strategies for dealing with a PR Crisis during a recall (side note – what can Toyota learn from this?).

The Situation

On Jan 20, 2010, at 7:00am the news of the recall went out over the newswire.  Graco announced a recall of 1.5 million strollers worldwide after 7 injuries were reported.  The recall was only for a few specific models (not for the entire line-up).  The story was posted immediately on a large number of national news sites.

How Graco Responded

Being Pro-Active

Graco pro-actively shared their message with specific communication on their blog, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and a dedicated Web Page.  They created a landing page with specific information since they knew that consumers might have trouble getting through to customer care.

Reaching out to Influencers

They also reached out to top influencers to help share information.  They sent an email prior to the news release to a variety of brand ambassadors who also have blogs.  The bloggers appreciated getting the news first and helped to share information.

Dealing with Negativity

There was a lot of negative feedback.  Here are some of the tips to deal with negativity:

  • First, get ahead of the news and pro-actively search for and respond to conversations.
  • Second, work closely with customer service; prepare them in advance and loop them in with a senior person who can approve appropriate real time responses.
  • Deal with responses on a case-by-case basis and get permission to act.
  • Start building the relationships before the problem exists.  Nurture a community of positive advocates who will help in a crisis situation.
  • Finally, if there is something that the community can benefit from then keep it online, otherwise move it offline.

One specific example was a woman named “Michelle” – she tweeted to the Chicago Sun Times, was responding to other consumers on the Graco Facebook page and actively shared negativity.  Graco had a senior person respond to her personally and it turned her around.  She then shared positive experiences across all of the same channels.  She was happy that Graco wanted to help and reached out to her.

This is consistent with what we hear time and again.  Often those who complain the loudest can become your biggest advocates with a little time and attention.

Key Learnings

  • Legal collaboration – Become a legal go-to inside your organization as the communications team.  Prepare messages in advance.  Make sure that your legal team understands social media.
  • Executive Communication – Graco held twice a day calls with leadership leading up to and during the announcement.  They sent a daily email with the coverage and red-flags.  This helped build consensus.
  • Global Integration – Clarify the meaning of a recall outside of the US and treat all customers the same.

The way that the social media team is structured at Graco helps.  There is a social media team that is made up of multi-functional people who are passionate about the brand (they don’t have communications backgrounds).  They were all briefed in advance and were told how to respond to issues.

How did you work with your social media agency during this recall?

Graco really used their agency as a tool to listen.  They were keeping an eye on the conversation to help us comb through the conversation and respond when needed.  They don’t respond directly – they provide council and listening.  Graco owned the communications.

What do you do about the crazies, nutjobs and wackos and people in that category?

Set expectations with your executives that this will happen.  Reach out and let them know that you are there to talk to them.  Ask them what they want — be there to talk to them about their issues and deal with it on a case by case basis.

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