Voorsprung Social Media Technik

Audi South Africa has just been hit by a new media iceberg. The lasting effects of this new media storm are going to be damaging beyond the immediate event. The problem with bad news these days, especially when it comes to a brand, is that it can explode online and become a cultural meme incredibly fast.

In the old traditional news model frustrated customers could write to the newspaper or perhaps appear on a rare television expose. And it had a fairly short shelf-life. Newspapers get recycled. A TV program is gone in a flash. They could complain to friends and family – on average they told 13 people.

The Internet however is an entirely different beast. It reaches a wide audience fast. It archives content forever.

Today irate customers post their complaints online and those posts and comments can be accessed via a smartphone in someone’s hand. They’re reading and commenting on content in social sites no matter where they are. (Unless of course they’re in an elevator where there is no signal.)

All this just adds to the modern reputation management issue. Angry posts and bad news get linked to and gather attention. Bloggers pick up on it and it gets a new life of its own. I heard about the Audi South Africa nightmare through Twitter and subsequently saw it on South African car blogs. I live on the opposite side of the planet, yet I knew about it within minutes of it occurring.

The next problem is the aftermath of such an event. Because of the interest and attention the content rises to page one in Google and unless you do something about it, it will stay there. For years. Ask Kryptonite Bike Locks.

Let’s do a quick summary:

After much frustration, see this article, a customer reports on Audi’ SA’s Facebook page that her car was wrecked by an employee. It created over two and half thousand comments and finally got the attention of the powers that be.

Now this is not about whether a naughty person did or did not allegedly take the sexy convertible for a joy ride. It’s about how Audi SA responded.

This could have been handled straight away, but instead the South African “Pass the Buck” and “just now” attitude came into effect. After three weeks of run-around from Audi and their refusal to take responsibility for the situation, the customer posted her story on Audi South Africa’s Facebook page hoping to get support and satisfaction. And support she certainly got. 2500 fans commented on her post. One comment reveals a woman telling all her friends who own an Audi to deal with their complaints on the Facebook page, as that obviously actually gets results and attention :)

And now this content is on page one for a search for Audi in Google.

Their Facebook page is also on page one. It will be interesting to see how many blog posts pick up on the story and how long this stays on page one. Since Audi SA did not seem too savvy about handling the social media crisis one wonders if they know how to handle an online reputation issue.

How savvy is your company? Is your PR or customer service team trained to handle this kind of onslaught? Or is yours one of the 46% of companies worldwide the Digital Crisis Preparedness Report says expect an online crisis to occur, but has no plan?

The future of business is inevitably tied to social media. You need your team to be trained to handle an online crisis. You need a social media crisis plan. Just putting out a single, generic response on Twitter or Facebook and trying to hold the fort is not enough.

If Audi SA had played mea culpa and fallen on the proverbial sword earlier, replaced her car and owned the social aspect, they would be in an entirely different position. As it is, they ended up replacing her car anyway and now they have to deal with the fall out of their actions as well.

Shades of the Progressive Insurance Debacle.

All Audi SA achieved was to reinforce the idea that they have lousy customer service and, a few fans aside, create a toxic environment for engagement with their online community.