Although it can take a significant amount of time and effort to establish a brand, social media has made the process much easier. This medium gives business owners and departments a way to get in touch with their customers and find out exactly what they want, obtain feedback, as well as improve relations. Unfortunately, social media is also a double-edged sword – having the potential to cripple a brand within a matter of hours.

How social media can create a PR disaster

Federal Express (FedEx) knows this all too well. In 2011, a video appeared on YouTube of one its drivers ‘delivering’ a fragile computer monitor. Although the recipient was reportedly in his home at the time of this delivery, the man can be seen throwing the package over the fence. As a result, the owner claimed that the screen was broken and needed to be replaced.

Although this was obviously an isolated incident, the video spread like wildfire online. To this date, it has more than nine million views and the comment section contains complaints about FedEx and other delivery firms.

How FedEx turned this into a PR win

Fortunately, FedEx acted quickly to prevent the video from causing further harm. Instead of pretending the clip didn’t exist, the company responded the next day with an excellent damage limitation campaign. This included:

  • An apology to the customer in person
  • Replacing the customer’s monitor
  • Undertaking an investigation into this incident and confirming that the driver was no longer working with customers until the enquiry’s conclusion.

Furthermore, the senior vice president of FedEx – Matthew Thornton III – used YouTube to publish another video talking about the incident, apologising to the public, confirming the company had taken steps to remedy the situation, and stated how they would use this experience to improve customer service.

In the description, he wrote:

“Along with many of you, we’ve seen the video showing one of our couriers carelessly and improperly delivering a package the other day. As the leader of our pickup and delivery operations across America, I want you to know that I was upset, embarrassed, and very sorry for our customer’s poor experience.

“This goes directly against everything we have always taught our people and expect of them. It was just very disappointing.”

By doing this, FedEx helped publicly show themselves as a responsible brand, eager to accept their mistakes and learn from them. In addition, the comment section of this video started filling up with positive comments from other customers – helping to further emphasise that this unfortunate situation was just a one-off incident.

Turning other PR disasters into wins

PHA Media, specialists in crisis PR, has written about this subject in great detail. Although their tips can be read in full by visiting their website, these points have been summarised below:

  • Plan ahead and prepare for every feasible disaster in advance
  • Organise a dedicated team to deal with PR issues. This should include a spokesperson, backup spokespeople, top executives, PR professionals, and legal advisors
  • Ensure these people have been media trained and know how to respond to journalists
  • Prepare an FAQ document for PR disasters, develop a consistent message, and ensure that your key points are always getting across.
  • When a PR disaster occurs, act immediately. Do not pretend the incident isn’t happening
  • Having said that, do not act without knowing all the information first. If pressured to respond by a journalist, never say “no comment” and instead take down their details and answer when you have the necessary facts.
  • Above all, stay calm. Looking flustered and worried automatically conveys guilt.

Final thoughts

Before the popularity of social media, negative reactions from customers could be handled in a completely different way. However, people can now express their discontent straight away through a wide range of possible channels. Although this means that negative press can spread incredibly quickly – and considerably faster than it may have done in the past – it also has the potential to promote brand awareness. Moreover, this medium allows a company to observe an incident developing in real time, as well as the resulting backlash.

Therefore, this allows the firm to keep track of the offending issue, take steps to remedy it, and stop the disaster from causing further damage. However, one thing is absolutely certain – these incidents cannot be ignored, and firms must act quickly to turn a PR crisis into a PR win.