Social Media vs Crisis Control

I wrote this article in early 2015 but couldn’t post it at that time due to a potential conflict. Now I am able to publish it. While the actual incident may be out-dated by several months, the lesson remains as relevant as ever…

With all major brands now fully entrenched in the world of sharing content for customer engagement, especially via social platforms, the battle to win the hearts and minds of consumers is well and truly on.

But as in all battles: if you stick your head above the parapet, you may get shot.

DHL is the latest victim of this two-way exchange of content to build a connection between brands and consumers.

The international logistics company has amassed 191,348 fans on it’s Facebook profile. While it’s a far cry from Coca-Cola’s 90m (having long held the No1 spot) or competitor UPS’s 1.4m fans, it’s a valiant little effort from a brand in a low-interest utility/service sector. And they were proud as punch when they hit 50,000 likes back in June 2012.

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Their content has been the usual fare from such a well-known but emotionally undefined brand: pics of their plane transporting the Rugby World Cup trophy; a DHL drone delivering medicine (everyone needs a drone!); their new DHL car fleet in Serbia; and staff in yellow vests pushing yellow crates into a yellow truck. Their posts tend to attract between 50 and 1000 likes (the latter being when it’s connected to an event with it’s own mass following such as the Grand Prix), and an average of 100 shares.

So it would seem they’re doing what most brands do to engage with customers.

But all their efforts (over the past 3 years) can suddenly unravel in just 24 hours.

At the hands of a man called Pinky BuaChompoo.

Pinky (not his real name) is a kickboxer in the southern Australian state, appropriately named South Australia. On 3 November 2014, he happened to video DHL staff loading boxes in transit onto a truck at Adelaide Airport with the kind of deft handling one would expect if the task had been entrusted to wild gorillas who’d just been told Diane Fossey had been faking it.*

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See it HERE.

The video was posted online (as you do) and shared with DHL (as you do). In just 24 hours it had been viewed over 798,000 times, which is probably more than the cumulative total of all DHL’s social shares, likes, and comments over the past 3 years.

In that time, the video was  reposted on DHL’s Facebook page over 280 times by angry, frustrated, disappointed and otherwise upset consumers, thus spreading the harmful reputation. In fact, in the last 15 hours there was no other content or commentary posted BUT the video.

It even made it to the mainstream news media, getting column inches in the Adelaide Advertiser, Daily Mail and Herald Sun, and coverage on Channel 9 and Yahoo news.

To the Adelaide Advertiser, Pinky BuaChompoo said “I was just sitting in my mate’s car when I saw them doing it. I was really pissed off with their behaviour.”

“The reason why it bothers me is that I send stuff all the time internationally and domestically and the stuff ends up in damaged boxes.”

Interestingly, Pinky is no ‘influencer’ – that holy grail that brands are constantly wooing to help spread their company love to a large digitally-captive audience. He only has 5000 Facebook fans. Yet he managed to BE an influencer.

It used to be said “give good service and they’ll tell a friend, give poor service and they’ll tell 10”. This rule of thumb has been proven to be dramatically different with the advent of social media. A great (and somewhat identical example) can be read HERE. There’s probably some recent marketing maths that has worked out the ratio of epicentric influence one needs to spread negative brand commentary versus that required to spread positive brand commentary. Perhaps one pissed off Pinky with 5000 fans could achieve the equivalent but inverse impact on a brand as one happy vlogger with 5,000,000 fans. A 1:1000 difference between brand love and brand hate.

What did DHL do to stem the tide of brand hate?

Very little.

A spokeswoman responded to the Advertiser with the customary statement of being “shocked”, that this was “contrary to all of our policies” and that, of course, an investigation had begun. All fair enough in a press statement. Especially after a journalist has called your office to ask for a statement.

But this began in social media and could have been responded to in social media. While the left hand makes the obligatory corporate remarks to journalists, the right hand could be the professional yet more empathetic voice of the brand in social media.

That’s why brands participate in platforms like Facebook in the first place – to be a friend of the consumer. A chum. A buddy. A pal.

And be a quick wit, a friendly post, show a culture and personality that makes consumers think of themselves as – even just a little bit – a friend of the brand.

Scrolling back through the iterative posts of the video on their Facebook, DHL didn’t respond until the 94th posting of the video. Even then, rather than a broad announcement on their timeline to all concerned, it was this solitary comment to one random contributor:

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To add insult to injury, Pinky’s video went live about the same time as DHL shared a picture of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra (LGO) entrusting the transportation of their instruments to DHL’s “TLC”. After that, they went silent. Total blackout. Even when people commented on the LGO photo to ask “is that like the TLC they give people’s parcels at Adelaide Airport?”. Nothing.

But how should DHL have acted?

Firstly, their social media and content strategy should have included a crisis management strategy, and possibly even some prepared and pre-approved posts ready to go. The fact that they did nothing instantly leads me to assume they had no such plan. One can only imagine their Content Manager sweating bullets as this outbreak spread across his feed, unable to respond because he hadn’t been authorized to do so.

Secondly, and this would have been easier with the aforementioned crisis strategy in place, they should have acted fast.

In a world of mobile-toting, quick-responding, soap-box-standing, social-media-dwelling consumers who can silently love a brand one minute and vocally abhor it the next, the 15 hours it took DHL to make any response was an online lifetime. The only saving grace here is that consumers often shrug and move on after firing their volley and receiving no return fire. Sometimes within hours. Even Pinky BuaChompoo’s Facebook timeline immediately returned to pics of his flexed abs and comments on Muay Thai sessions.

He did post this little comment, almost asking to be left alone now that his champion-of-the-people role has finished:

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But even though Pinky doesn’t want to talk about this – as much as DHL doesn’t – the evidence still remains. If the 280 people who posted this video on DHL’s page had moved on and not spared a second thought for what they’d seen, the video still exists for another 798,000 people to see, raise their fists, shout from their keyboards and touch-screens, and keep this lasting much longer than it took for DHL staff to toss a few boxes on a truck.

In a world full of Pinky BuaChompoos, who have a right to have an opinion, good or bad, and have the technological means to share that opinion, good or bad, then brands wanting to participate in social platforms need to be ready to respond to all comments, good or bad. They can no longer believe that social and content is a quick, easy, cool and fun way to interact with the people to show they have a heart beating inside their corporate logo-embossed chest, and then stick their head in the sand when their pool party turns sour.

Maybe I’ll send a presentation on all this to their marketing team. But I better send it via FedEx.

*She wasn’t. Diane was a true nature-loving legend of the century.