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Caroline Yetman

Social crisis comms winners & losers

Recently we’ve seen more than ever how powerful a tool social media can be for handling a crisis.

There’s been a real mix of brands getting it *so* right and brands getting it *so* wrong.

This post is a celebration of those that get it right and some tips for those that haven’t got to grips with it yet.

As a positive person I always like to look at the positives first – so let’s take a look at this months winners (I might be a bit bias as we trained these winners on crisis management and social customer service, so let me know if you think someone else deserves this title!):


Even if you’re not a customer, you probably heard about O2’s outage a couple of weeks ago. It’s probably one of the worst things that can happen to you as a comms provider, right?

They had thousands of customers on twitter asking questions, sending abusive messages to them and talking about the outage in general. But with all this going on, they still managed to turn many angry customers into loyal customers. That’s surely not possible!

So how did they do it?

  • They responded to every customer with a personalised tweet who tweeted directly @O2
  • They used their playful brand image ie. like the response tweet in the screen shot below
  • They acknowledged their mistake
  • They got the balance right between humour and sincerity
  • They proactively and reactively gave customers information and updates on the outage as it happened

And the result?

Because of O2’s human tone of voice on Twitter, customers began to recognise what a great job O2 was doing instead of being angry at the outage.

They’ve definitely set the bar very high for any brand using social to communicate in a crisis.

And I’ve just seen that they’ve even taken it a step further today and promoted this tweet to the top of their feed:


Barclays took a more serious approach on Facebook by apologising to its fans after it was found out it rigged interest rates.

It would never have got away with being as playful as O2 because of the sincerity of the issue which, unlike O2, was a consequence of their own actions.

But it still worked.

It worked because it was brave, it owned up to its mistakes and said sorry in a really transparent way. It won back some fans and silenced a few haters that were over-running the Facebook Page before that.

This is a great first step in a crisis and a first step in winning customers back.

Of course for any brand to be truly social, and for it to work well, it needs to align its culture with the principles of the social web by becoming truly transparent, authentic and genuinely wanting to do good stuff for their customers and community.

Now for the fun bit, the losers…

There were quite a few to choose from recently, but the biggest loser has to be Natwest because it embodied most of the common mistakes I see brands making when communicating in a crisis and failed to see the opportunity of turning a crisis into a PR win.

Remember Natwest’s “computer failure” which knocked out much of the banks ability to process payments and affected over 11 million customers over a week?

During the crisis, @NatWest_Help’s Twitter followers grew by 200% but despite this and the substantial increase in mentions, the bank was slow to react.

So where did it go wrong?

  • One of the main criticisms was that it was only tweeting between the hours of 9 – 5 which is less than its branch opening hours. In a time of crisis when customers need support out of hours, it’s definitely worth extending BAU hours on social.
  • Unlike the O2 example, the tweets were very broadcast. They weren’t personal and did not proactively offer support to customers which is what they really needed.
  • They acted as though the crisis was already out of their hands, despite saying sorry, it wasn’t enough.  Natwest should have taken a leap out of O2′s book and used it as an opportunity to show just how supportive they can be, even when things go wrong.
The key lesson here, for any brand wanting to communicate via social media, is that it’s crucial to have a crisis plan in place for social media alongside your traditional crisis plan to turn a crisis into an opportunity.


We offer crisis management and social customer service courses through the NixonMcInnes Academy. So if you too would like to be a winner in these areas too, let us know!

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One Comment

  1. interesting post.. and you are spot on.. some companies really ‘get’ social media and how to deal and act with customers etc.. and some really dont.. You mention Nat West.. interestingly we at engagementIndex measure customer care on Twitter.. we look at tweets aimed at the business and then did they reply and if they did in what time frame…

    Here is the data for the 22nd June.. As you can see, @natwest_help pretty much ignored everyone that tweeted them…


    Mark Shaw
    CEO engagementIndex

    Posted 24th July 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink