A tale of two organizations’ Facebook responses to crises2011-11-09
Two current crises demonstrate the value of candor in an organization’s social-focused communication efforts. In both cases, nothing the organization says will keep people from being upset and unhappy. But in one instance, the company acknowledged the fact and provided an opportunity for people to vent while at the same time confining much of the discussion to comments on its own Facebook post. In the other, an attempt to minimize discussion has led to a rash of critical comments crowding its Facebook wall.
In one corner is American Airlines, which lost Jack the Cat, a pet being transported on one of its flights. When it was discovered that Jack had gone missing from his cage, American began providing updates on the search on its Facebook page. Jack was ultimately found, 61 days later, but it was too late. After another 12 days,Jack’s owner made the difficult decision to have her pet euthanized.
American updated the post to its Notes page to announce Jack’s passing and express its sympathy, and even tweeted the message at left. The comments take American to task for allowing the cat to escape its cage in the first place, but sprinkled through the criticisms are praise for communicating openly about the situation and for taking responsibility.
In the other corner is
Pennsylvania State University Penn State, whose NCAA football program has been tarnished by revelations that former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky had been abusing young boys and that University staff had been aware of the situation but failed to take action. Even venerated coach Joe Paterno has been tainted by the scandal.
On the Penn State news page, you have to scroll to the bottom to find any reference to the situation. Even then, you have to guess that “Statement from President Spanier” is a reference to the controversy that is consuming the campus. As my friend Dan Janal noted, “One learns about ticket availability to the Nebraska game (against Penn Sstate) and Lady Antebellum before there’s a word from the Prez.”
And on the University’s Facebook page, there’s not even that much.
Where those outraged that an airline charged with transporting a customer’s beloved pet failed in its responsibility were encouraged to share their views in response to a very human statement published to a social site, those outraged that a venerated university permitted abhorrent behavior to continue were given no such outlet, so they created their own, taking to the same Facebook wall that greets visitors coming to the page for any number of reasons.
There are those who would scoff at equating an animal’s death to sexual abuse and its cover-up. The voice of animal rights activists, though, is loud and influential. Penn could take a lesson from American, which has resigned itself to taking its lumps while understanding that engaging its customers will produce a better outcome than clamming up.
In short, here are the takeaways from these crises:
- People upset with an organization whose bad behavior, no matter how anomalous, will express their feelings online whether you encourage them to or not.
- It’s best to have the conversation in your own yard. When JetBlue failed to cover its St. Valentine’s Day freeze on its own blog back in 2007, angry pasengers created their own blog as a place to vent…and kept JetBlue representatives out.
- As in any crisis, a risk-averse public respods with emotion, not logic. You’ll lengthen the crisis and deepen resentment by being logical. Responding from that emotional standpoint will serve your organization far better.
- Facebook has become the de facto place for communal grief, anger and other emotions over public events. Don’t ignore it; rather, plan for it.
- By allowing the conversation to remain focused on your own statement, you’re able to concentrate much of the conversation in one place where your fans and others who appreciate your sincerity will provide some balance to the outpouring of anger.
Ultimately, saying as little as possible and hoping for the best is not a crisis communication strategy. When the crisis is of your own making—as was the case in both these situations—you goal is to minimize the damage and put it behind you as quickly as possible. By inviting the conversation, American has ensured it will do just that, while Penn State’s evasion will guarantee the story will linger long after the guilty have been punished.