Crisis Management: Is your brand safe? The Komen Crisis: Crisis prevention
Much control of your brand has slipped through your fingers. Look no further than the Susan G. Komen for the Cure crisis for proof. Before we discuss that case here’s how I first became aware of this new corporate existential truth.
I drew a diagram for an executive MBA class a few years ago illustrating how social media must be factored into crisis management. The drawing included a social media crisis team, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and key online opinion leaders. A student made a remarkable observation. He pointed at the social media part of my sketch and said, “They (social media) now control our brands!”
The student’s insight proved prophetic as we’ve seen. Social media blasts reversed Komen’s cutting off funds to Planned Parenthood (PP), stopped a disliked Netflix pricing plan, and compelled Congress to give up on controversial Internet anti-piracy legislation. The social media powerplay list grows weekly.
Now let’s look at Komen. The impeccably well-regarded breast cancer advocacy group announced it was stopping the PP money because of a new policy forbidding funding for organizations under government investigation. (A Republican congressman was probing connections among PP, funding and abortions.) One official said the ensuing reaction was like a Category 5 hurricane. Online chatter about Komen jumped 80% in one day and 2/3 was negative. The organization tried desperately to explain its rationale on Twitter, YouTube, and via the CEO. Despite some anti-abortion support, the Internet (and some added “liberal media”) shouted it down. Komen apologized and retreated within three days.
That Komen’s initial social media effort failed is worth noting too. Online savvy does not offset bad judgment.
So, social media does own a chunk (but not all) of your brand and you must take that into account. And it begs a troubling question. What about decisions and actions that are well-considered, correct for an organization, but unpopular? Should, can, opposing forces be able to generate sufficient social media heat to compel a leader to stop doing the right thing for fear of igniting a reputation-threatening backlash? Opponents certainly have the right to try, but I believe leaders have a good chance of overcoming or, more importantly, avoiding substantial social media opposition. They should strive to ensure their actions are based on 1) good judgment, 2) transparent strong communication, and 3) crisis management precautions.
Good judgment is sublime, few have it, but all of us can improve our decision-making. Persuasive honest internal and external communications are mandatory. Following crisis management principles such as take care of victims, fix it, inform stakeholders, reassurance, get it over with, don’t make it worse, and tell the truth, improves your odds.
Alas, for Komen, those horses are out the barn. Now comes rebuilding. The Washington Post said the group is in full damage-control mode and had PR assistance before and after the PP money cut. The reputation may never reach previous heights but it can be restored. This will take time when supporters already describe the Planned Parenthood funding reversal as a “PR stunt.”