Crisis Communication in the Era of Facebook: Where Komen Went Wrong

Facebook has drastically changed the landscape of modern-day crisis communication. In the past, news about brand-related disasters broke on the airwaves and trickled down through local broadcast affiliates, radio stations and print publications, only arriving at the gossip girls’ lunch table after making its way through the traditional news channels. Today, there’s one medium more influential than all the rest — Facebook. Nowadays all it takes is one Facebook comment to get the rumor mill started. Sounds ridiculous, right? Not to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the latest brand to be unprepared for the follow-out that occurs when social media is mismanaged during a crisis.

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard bits and pieces of information about the Komen controversy. Just in case you haven’t, here’s a quick refresher: Komen For the Cure first gained attention when the public caught wind of the foundation’s decision to pull its funding for low-income women’s breast exams at Planned Parenthood. I don’t want to get into the partisan politics surrounding the issue  (we all know politics don’t belong at the dinner table) but I do want to shed light on how the problem was amplified because of Facebook.

Here’s where it all went wrong for Komen:

Upon the discovery of Komen’s decision, consumers flocked to the foundation’s Facebook page to offer their two cents on the matter. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a donation Komen was happy to receive. In fact, the brand deleted many consumers’ comments – a major no-no in the world of brand, fan-page social media. Although many brands will remove a comment that is offensive, crude or uses foul language, Komen decided to delete all comments critical of its decision, which was the majority of the comments. In an effort to prevent this from happening to anyone again, let’s do a brief review of the rules.

  1. Have a corporate social media plan that outlines what to do in the case of a crisis. If your company doesn’t have one, get one. Not sure where to start? Read my previous blog on how to form a social media crisis communication plan.
  2. Don’t delete a consumer’s comment unless it falls under a specific portion of your brand’s social media rules, which should be available to the public.

Moving on.

A recent study by Australia’s Ehrenberg-Bass Institute indicates that approximately one percent or so of those “liking” a particular brand on Facebook actually engage with it in any meaningful capacity. In Komen’s case, more than one percent “engaged” with the brand. In fact, as of Feb. 9, more than 71,000 people are talking about Susan G. Komen for the Cure on Facebook.

So, what does this all mean?

With Facebook as a primary news disseminator, and a news cycle that operates in minutes, not hours, crisis communication takes on a whole new meaning. In fact, social media sites as a whole incite rapid amplification of an issue. Grassroots campaigns are often started via Facebook, as proven by the outpouring of consumer complaints during the Komen debacle.

A recent report by Environic Communications framed it best when it said, “organizations need to recognize that media and others will not only be engaged in the content of the crisis, but will also be monitoring and assessing how the crisis is being handled – is the response appropriate? Are spokespeople compelling? Are the communications working?”

In Komen’s case, it earns an “F” for the way it handled the recent controversy.  Komen failed to engage with its fans in a positive way; it deleted comments without a warranted cause, (other than it was worried about its image); and it hasn’t done anything to restore the online community’s faith in its brand. Fans and haters just want to see honesty. It’s just like my mother always said: in the end it’s the truth that wins.

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3 thoughts on “Crisis Communication in the Era of Facebook: Where Komen Went Wrong

  1. Very good post, Kate! I feel that many organizations can understand these basic fundamentals like “DON’T DELETE NEGATIVE COMMENTS,” but why is it we see these huge organizations make serious blunders like this?

    In Komen’s case a good defense would have been a good offense. Komen is such a prestigious organization, I would think their PR team would be ready to engage these problems. Instead they swept their problems under a rug.

    I wish them luck in their future endeavors, it’s going to be a hard road to gain loyalty and trust back.

  2. Well it was 50/50 and you’ve dispensed with the wrong word. It’s the media part of soacil media that is misleading because it implies attention can be bought which is like suggesting a double glazing pitch is welcome at the Ivy while dining with a client.It’s all soacil now or at least it all could be.Digital soacil networks?

  3. Pingback: Crisis Communication During the Mayan Apocalypse | The M/C/C Minute

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