Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past week, I’m sure you’ve seen a plethora of articles about tasteless commercials and tasteless customer service. The key word here is plethora. There are so many articles and blogs (hi) and tweets and posts about the Pepsi and United crises of the last week. Twenty years ago, before social media, there wouldn’t be near as much coverage of these crises as there are today because we still relied on mainstream media to give us our news. Perhaps, these crises wouldn’t have even existed without social media and the accessibility of phones that can take photos and video. Today I don’t want to talk about what went wrong with Pepsi and United, but I want to take a moment to reflect on how social media plays a role in expediting crises.
Perhaps social media’s most valuable quality, other than its ability to connect us with strangers all over the world, is its speed. News that breaks in America can get around the world in mere seconds thanks to social media. Seconds. When I was in London this summer I was able to keep up with the Thunder game in real time. I was a continent away from where the game was actually being played, yet it was like I was home in Edmond.
PR is a quickly moving industry in these crisis scenarios and it has only sped up with the integration of social media in our world. Back in the day we relied on the media to break big news over television or radio. Yes, we loved TV back in the 80s like we love social media now, but it wasn’t as accessible as social media is. Every person can keep a phone/computer in their pocket and can be connected every second of the day if they want. Before social media breaking news was only accessible through television and radio, which means we couldn’t get breaking news unless we were by a TV or radio. A news source wasn’t attached to our hips to alert us of every little thing.
For companies that get caught in a PR crisis, they have even less time now to put their crisis plan into motion–and that’s assuming they have a pre-planned crisis protocol. Before social media there was a little more time to think because not everyone had heard the news yet. I’m not saying that that’s an excuse to not act, but it’s definitely something to consider. In today’s world if you don’t say what the public wants to hear as soon as news breaks, you are going to be grilled on social media.
Now everyone has a voice that wants one. We no longer have to rely on the news anchors to tell our stories or voice our concerns because our phones allow us to do that ourselves. For brands this is great when good things are happening, but devastating when things go bad. The reason that Pepsi and United blew up so fast was because the sheer amount of people that saw it in a small window of time and made a point to say something about it. That, and the fact that they were both in poor taste.
Do companies forget that phones have cameras and apps have live video functions? They should be more concerned now than ever that any poor customer service or negative backlash will be posted online. In a way, this almost guarantees that we will see more companies fall from grace than ever before because now the people out on the ground interacting with these brands and their employees have the platform to share their bad experiences. The days of a phone call to customer service or letter to the manager are over. In a world where we expect to get everything without waiting, it is not surprise that we expect there to be immediate consequences for brands that make a mistake.
Social media not only speeds up the breaking news process, but allows people to band together against the crisis in order to get companies to hear their voices. This is the dual threat of social media against brands in a crisis scenario and when a brand figures out how to handle this effectively, they might just be able to minimize the amount of negative impacts suffered in the court of public opinion.
Holly Hoehner is a public relations senior at the University of Oklahoma. She considers herself more of a Russell Westbrook than a Kevin Durant and enjoys learning about and participating in the digital age, blogging about anything that comes to her mind and creating witty Instagram captions. Holly was raised a die-hard Sooner fan in Edmond, OK.