Learning the lessons from 2017’s PR and social media disasters

Brands in the grip of a public relations crisis should stop wriggling out of apologising as they become increasingly held to account by “social karma”, PRecious’ Lars Voedisch has said.

Speaking during a panel session at the Mumbrella360 Asia conference – in Singapore in November – examining the most spectacular PR disasters of 2017, including United Airlines, Pepsi and Dove, the Singapore-based agency founder said it wasn’t enough for companies to simply say: ‘We’re sorry how you’re feel’ to an outraged public.

During the talk,  Voedisch argued: “It’s not so much the legal permission to operate that we’re talking about, but the moral permission. That’s the social karma. The role of PR and communications is increasing because you need the buy-in from your audiences – not just your legal permits.”

Discussing last year’s United Airlines crisis, whereby security threw a doctor off a plane because he wouldn’t give up his seat, Mediacorp’s head of brand and communication Karen Yew said the airline woefully missed the mark with its apology.

“The airline should have acknowledged it violated the human rights of this passenger and it was a violation of their mission to serve their customers and treat them humanely on the plane,” she said.
“They should have apologised remorsefully immediately. Their inability to do so was a serious insult to that serious injury.”

In contrast to Oscar Munoz’s initial statement, which was labelled “tone deaf” by Mumbrella’s Tim Burrowes, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s response to his public sibling spat felt “authentic”, claimed Q Communications ShuQi Liu.

“At a time when that news [about the fallout] broke, it was on Facebook and from a different place that our Prime Minister was,” she said. “But I think he reacted very well. He recorded a video that felt unscripted and authentic, and he did really well getting that message about.”

Meanwhile, PR experts and brands are likely to find themselves embroiled in even more disasters over the coming years due to the amplification effect of social media and the fragmentation of messaging.

Discussing Dove’s October ad, which appeared to show a black model turning into a white woman, Mutant account director Lina Marican said: “Because of social media, anyone can jump on your bandwagon and misconstrue a few of your key messages that came from a good place.

“Dove are all about diversification and inclusivity. This was a situation where brands like Dove could certainly have jumped in and acknowledged this, while at the same time having that open dialogue to explain themselves and where the idea came from.”

Elaborating on the point Stephen Dale, general manager of social listening company Digimind, argued it was crucial for brands to cover “every base” online, but also to closely monitor their organisation from their senior executives to the partners they work with.

He added: “We will probably see more crises around content because brands have to create more and more content every day now. How do you go through all the checkpoints with the rate of content being created? There will be things that are missed by somebody. It’s very difficult for brands to manage.”


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