Listen Up! 5 Steps for Turning Listening into a Competitive Differentiator-Lessons from Delta, Abercombie and Taco Bell
Adele Cehrs, President, Epic PR Group
Tracking, analyzing and responding to trending values online and off can greatly impact a company’s ability to address issues that matter most to their respective target audiences. More than just information, by monitoring emotionally charged conversations appropriately, PR people can provide real-time value to their key stakeholders, C-suite, consumers and get ahead of competitors.
In order to be effective, engagement (online or off) must work toward an overarching business objective. We as communicators must direct the consumers’ interaction to meet the larger organizational goals – instead of just creating and implementing basic engagement strategies through likes and comments that can be somewhat meaningless if not attached to a PR objective.
However, to understand how to successfully monitor conversations and engagement, there is one fallacy must be dispelled. We must recognize that traditional media and online media are not mutually exclusive. Communicators need to pay attention to stories that bounce from traditional media to social media and trigger emotional reactions from consumers. These are the stories that are most likely to go viral. Stories that appeal to online forums and traditional media have a human-interest angle that most people can identify with or attach personal a value to, causing them to want to want to weigh-in.
For instance, Delta airlines recently dealt with an online crisis after charging servicemen for their bags on a flight home from a combat zone. This type of incident triggers a number of emotions and core beliefs including patriotism, pride and protection for unsung heroes, which created a strong emotional response online and off.
The result was outraged servicemen posted a YouTube video about the incident, which spread like wildfire. Traditional media sources, multiple broadcast channels and newspapers nationwide covered the story – not to mention bloggers, Twitter and Facebook lit into the airline. Delta chose to ignore the traditional media stories and did not acknowledge the issue in a timely manner, but did respond to individual comments online. This did little to quell consumer anger, although Delta clearly was not going to win this crisis battle even if they provided an apology and a refund.
This story, and many other crisis situations like it, present a golden opportunity for competitors such as JetBlue and Southwest who do not charge for bags to respond quickly and gain market share and consumer loyalty in the process. What if the other airlines that didn’t charge for bags were listening close enough to the conversations, and were able to respond in real time to a competitor’s issue? The response value would be tremendous.
This begs an important question: Why did two major airlines choose not to charge consumers for additional bags? Probably because not charging for additional baggage is part of the airline’s differentiation strategy. If that is the case, why not also incorporate this competitive differentiator into a key listening strategy? The PR and social team should have been ready to respond to this issue in real-time. This is what is required to stay ahead of the competition in a Web 2.0 world.
Another example is a story that was recently reported in The Huffington Post about Abercrombie and Fitch. According to the article, the retailer’s customer service department sent an email to a “suspicious customer” denying them access to the site because they were concerned she was reselling the clothes she bought online. What brings about a stronger emotion than being accused of stealing and lying when you are really just a loyal customer of the brand? Again, where are the other retailers who have the same target market as Abercrombie and why haven’t they offered a promotional deal to counter this issue and gain market share? Free wardrobe perhaps or styling session? Seems like this could be a match made in J Crew or Gap heaven. These online crisis examples are ways for brands to realize their competitors’ missteps and gain consumer buy-in.
These crisis responses and opportunities need to be done carefully and respectfully. We are not suggesting ambulance chasing as a PR strategy. However, if your brand, company or business solution will solve a consumer problem that is gaining momentum and you have real-time PR responses ready, your corporate communications team can be positioned to create a winning brand strategy.
Delta and Abercrombie and Fitch are not alone. There are countless examples of corporations that do not have a listening strategy to respond to online and traditional media simultaneously. This type of tunnel response strategy can backfire and create a full-blown crisis that could have been prevented. These issues are largely due to internal in-fighting over who really owns social media within the organization: PR, advertising, IT or social media experts? The answer is that all of these departments must work together to fashion a response for the good of the company.
Consider the recent Taco Bell crisis communications response strategy regarding the “no meat accusation” and why it worked. Taco Bell’s PR, marketing, advertising, social media, legal and IT teams worked together to meet a single PR objective. The now famous newspaper ad with the intriguing headline, “Thank you for not suing us,” was a calculated and coordinated risk. It is clear from reading the response that the PR team also worked with the company’s IT team to create a dark website that was turned on. These sites are commonly used by big corporations to respond to negative stories.
By analyzing current news and consumer values that create an emotional response online and off, we as PR people will be better able to listen, respond in real-time and influence more people to buy into our brand’s PR objectives. Corporate communications departments can do this by implementing the following tactics:
1. Assign a Chief Listening Officer: Pick someone on your corporate communications team to work with various departments that touch social media. This person should have a full understanding of the company’s competitive differentiators and be able to respond in real-time to issues that have been pre-determined hot buttons or opportunities. Forty-eight hours is too long to answer an issue, so we must predict industry related issues. This is no different than creating a PR plan, except flexibility and quick reaction time are imperative.
2. Conduct Crisis and Opportunity Scenario Training: Long before something goes awry, companies need to assess potential issues and opportunities and establish responses. These scenarios should ideally incorporate all of those communicators and decision makers who would be involved should a crisis hit. Being able to work together under duress is a tall order and that why establishing who will be called and expected to respond in advance is paramount. Take bed-bugs for example. All hotels know that these outbreaks occur and need a response plan in place to deal with these issues and pounce on opportunities should a competitor have a problem.
3. Create a Dark Website: Although this may sound like something right out of Star Wars, creating a dark site with basic information will be an extremely helpful resource when a crisis strikes. Consider developing FAQ’s, a basic crisis statement, a video with information from a key spokesperson, response tree for media inquires, etc. The site should be housed on an external server that cannot be otherwise accessed or turned on accidentally.
4. Demand Channel Consistency: Consistency is essential during a crisis. Messages that go online and offline need to serve the same purpose and meet the same objectives. When they differ, this may get reported and used in a story. More importantly, all campaigns need to reflect the company’s PR objectives. For instance, the new advertising campaign may need to be delayed or changed to reflect the new perception issues brought on by the crisis.
5. Establish Allies Online and Off: In a Web 2.0 world, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook can be your best friend or your worst enemy. But, don’t forget that traditional media is also listening. Be sure to establish relationships with reporters and editors, contribute content and monitor conversations on an ongoing basis, so you aren’t begging for a favor when you need it most.
6. Conduct Crisis Drills: After a crisis subsides, companies need to revisit their scenario planning and understand what worked, what needs fixing and how can the process be improved in the future.
In the digital world, PR opportunities come and go more quickly than ever. But if companies can capitalize on current, trending conversations and issues online, they can garner visibility, gain market share, and set themselves apart from the competition.
For more information on training, please contact Adele Cehrs president of Epic PR Group at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 703-299-3404.