Secret Weapons for Crisis Management: Brand Advocates & Communities

Nobody believes you, no matter what you say, more and more people gather around, the roar of the crowd, the vicious comments, the loud voices, so many voices, and no matter what you or your employees, or your agencies do, the noise just doesn’t go down and often increases further. Handling an online crisis can be like fighting a losing war however, as it’s often said the solution to a problem lies within the problem itself.



Read on to learn how you can leverage the power of Brand Advocates and Communities who can provide a formidable high wall of defence to protect you in a crisis, often nipping it in the bud.

Nipping Crisis in the bud… but first lets understand the kinds of issues which companies face:

Not all issues are crisis, and sometimes a timely intervention can prevent a crisis. However one needs to examine the root of the problem before one reaches the stage of leveraging brand advocates and communities.

There are two kind of issues a company faces:

1. Social Media Issues and 2. Social Media Crisis.

Social Media Issues

Social media issues are typically the voices of customers who’re either not satisfied, or not happy with rising prices or are facing a disruption in service or a late shipment etc.

In the normal course of a companies operations, these kind of issues are handled by the customer service team. The social media team can help connect or lead customers to the respective channels to get their requests serviced and typically just an acknowledgement of the issue and some guidance is enough to diffuse it.

Really Large Organization Issues

When it comes to the Fortune 500, the problem is a different one, the sheer number of customers can at times mean that your large internal support teams are just not able to service customer support requests. Can you even begin to imagine the size of the problem faced by an organization the size of Microsoft?

Communities and Brand Advocates to the Rescue

Communities2Microsoft leverages communities/ user groups extensively. It has built custom communities for the sole purpose of enabling peer to peer support. Customers helping each other.

I’ve included below details from the Microsoft Frequently Asked Questions section of the site.

Q1. What is the Microsoft® Community Contributor Award?
A1. It is an award offered by Microsoft which is designed to recognize notable contributions to Microsoft online community forums such as TechNet, MSDN®, and Answers.

Q2. Do Microsoft Community Contributor Award recipients represent Microsoft?
A2. No. Awardees are not Microsoft employees, nor do they speak on Microsoft’s behalf. Awardees are independent third-party individuals who have received an award from Microsoft that recognizes their notable contributions to Microsoft online technical communities.

Q4. Do Microsoft Community Contributor Award recipients receive any payment from Microsoft?
A4. No. Recipients of the Microsoft Community Contributor Award receive a small benefit which can serve as a resource for their participation in technical forums, but they do not receive any monetary payment from Microsoft.

Amazing isn’t it, the possibilities, customers helping each other. This is a tiny snapshot of how Microsoft leverages communities and brand advocates.

As of current estimates there are more than 2000 independent user groups and a few thousand brand advocates supporting the company. Each of these help nip issues in the bud before they become a crisis.

Social Media Crisis

If the issue is faced by a large number of frustrated/angry customers with strong negative emotional responses then the issue can often escalate into a crisis. Most savvy companies typically have teams which handle these crises. However sometimes the problem is even bigger.

When normal intervention by Customer Service or PR Teams Fail

Here one is looking at extremely strong wide spread negative emotional responses, it’s like a crusade, one media outlet after the other carries the story, bloggers, online publications, heck it even flows to offline media channels.

Brand Advocates: The Secret Weapons of Crisis Management

From a company perspective its like an all out battle, with exhausted internal and external agencies messing things further. Or the classic deer in the headlights syndrome where the key decision makers don’t know what to do. A single brand advocate can turn the tide.

E.g. Samsung faced a recent crisis, they had cancelled a blogger’s airplane ticket on a press trip for refusing to write about the brand. The social fabric was like ripped from under their feet as they story bounced all over the web across a large number of publications with people across the web voicing extremely strong opinions.

A Single Calming Voice

However, a single brand advocate sharing his side of the story seemed to be like a calming balm in cyberspace. Now people could see multiple perspectives from someone who they identified with, someone who is not a company employee or from the PR agency. A third party who shared the same dais but had a different perspective and experience. The point here is not to say that either party was right or wrong. However, one single advocate seemed to turn the tide.

What about malicious campaigns run by others?

A competitor may tweet or post malicious information either on

- Their own site

- A social media channel

- Or third party channels

In either case the rules are quite straight forward:

There are things you can do on an individual basis and use the help of your community and brand advocates. In either case, the first step is acknowledging the issue, and not denying it. Making sure that you communicate on those channels where the campaign is being run, but leading people to a detailed clarification on your channel.

A recent example of this was where Microsoft attempted to address a campaign by Apple. In addition to traditional media which they ran campaigns on, they were supported by thousands of Microsoft’s Brand Advocates who charged right in, to defend their favorite platform. This time it wasn’t a cacophony but the sweet sound of music sung by the brand advocates in their favor. It wasn’t so much as trying to win a war against Apple, the point was rather to rally their customers around their platform.

The bottom line being that in this social era you need all the help you can, especially when crisis can springs up on you, due to a variety of reasons. You can’t do it alone.

Your brand advocates and communities can be an invaluable support ecosystem in helping you manage both issues as well as crisis.

Your Turn: Do share your experiences where you’ve leveraged brand advocates and communities especially in crisis management.

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