Using Social Media in Effective Crisis Communication

In the digital age, even the most prepared companies are at risk for having data leaked or stolen. When this happens, companies need to have a plan in place to not only fix the security loophole, but also reassure customers so they feel it’s safe to spend their money again. Using social media crisis communication strategies is one of the many ways that companies can rebuild trust with consumers after a data breach.

The most recent example of this is Target. Just days before Christmas, the nation’s second-largest retailer acknowledged Thursday that data connected to about 40 million credit and debit card accounts was stolen as part of a breach that began over the Thanksgiving weekend. The theft is the second-largest credit card breach in U.S. history, exceeded only by a scam that began in 2005 involving retailer TJ Maxx. That incident affected at least 45.7 million card users.

Target has been able to avoid some potential losses due to a quick response, which included direct and constant communication with customers. Here are the steps any business needs to be prepared to take in the event its data is stolen next.

1. Find the Leak and Plug It

The first thing any business needs to do in the event of a data breach is find out how it happened and close the security loophole. In Target’s case, according to the Wall Street Journal, this theft “may have involved tampering with the machines customers use to swipe their cards when making purchases.”

Once Target learned that credit card numbers and other important information was compromised, it did the right thing by immediately starting an investigation, finding the source of the problem and closing the loophole.

How the thieves were able to compromise payment terminals on such a large scale is unclear. But Target says once it found out about the theft, the problem was fixed. However, Target is not expanding on how it stopped more information from being stolen.

2. Create a Plan to Protect Customers

Once the problem is fixed, businesses need to immediately take steps to start rebuilding customers’ trust. To do this, Target immediately worked out a deal with credit reporting agencies to allow for compromised customers to have free credit monitoring, made sure banks were alert for fraudulent charges and contacted the Secret Service to assist in the investigation.

All of these steps were taken with the goal of showing customers that a company cares about the issue, cares about its customers and is actively working to prevent more problems from happening in the future.

3. Communicate the Plan Directly with Customers
Internally, Target decided on a plan on action for communicating the issue directly to consumers, and it included being open and honest about what happened.

The day after the first reports surfaced, Target’s CEO posted YouTube videos explaining what happened, what the company is doing about it, and what steps customers should take to protect themselves. CEO Gregg Steinhafel worked to address the common questions all Target customers were having at that time such as who is affected, what Target is doing about the problem and where people can go to get more information.

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Target, data breach, social media, crisis communication, payment card

The company’s website also has an easy to use FAQ, information on how customers can check their credit scores for free and has been the place where Target has worked to dispel any rumors that have popped up about the breach.

4. Use Social Media to Keep Communication Lines Open

It takes an open line of communication, and constant feedback to help customers begin to trust again. In the past, companies may have relied on press releases, mail or media outlet to get the information out. Now, companies can’t afford to wait, or for the message to be diluted, so social media is a must.

Target’s Facebook and Twitter pages have moved from being primarily advertising and marketing tools to being a direct line of communication with customers. Every day since the breach became public Target has been updating customers on the investigation, how they can have their credit monitored for free and call center response times. Tens of thousands of customers have responded to Target’s posts, allowing the company to respond and get every bit of information out directly to those who were affected without having to deal with a media filter. It also gave the company a chance to assess its response and adjust it in real time.

Also, all of Target’s messages on its company website were made to be shared organically. The CEO’s message right after the news came out included buttons to share the videos on several social media sites, allowing people to spread the message to friends and family.

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5. Reward Loyalty and Regain Trust

With the holiday shopping season in the balance, Target had to do more than reassure customers and help them watch out for fraud, it had to get them back in the store and shopping. Target immediately offered customers, even ones who weren’t compromised, an extra 10 percent off, the same as the employee discount for the weekend after the news came out.

Target knows the only way to start regaining trust is to get people back in the store and prove that it can safely handle data. The promotional sale on top of already discounted items due to the holiday helped bring people back.

6. Assess Response and Plan Ahead

The success of Target’s crisis response plan will be used in the future as a template for how to use social media to communicate directly with affected customers and bring people back into the stores. Target will most likely use this as a learning tool for both preventing future data breaches and improving its response to a crisis. We won’t know how well the plan worked until Target’s holiday shopping numbers are released, but with Target’s goal being to get back to business as usual, it seems to be on the right track.

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