Inge Groot of KLM on Good Social Media Crisis
(Guest Author) By Berlinda Harkink, Frankwatching.com
Frankwatching is the most popular marketing & technology blog in the Netherlands. Launched by Frank Janssen in 2004 as an individual blog, Frankwatching has since grown into an authoritative on-line platform focussing on various aspects of the Internet.
What do you do when things get out of hand and you have no control over the news flow about your own company anymore? The fact that the unwritten rules of crisis communication have been drastically altered by social media became clear during a lecture organized by the VU University in Amsterdam and MSLGROUP in the Netherlands on September 20, 2012.
New media, requiring a different kind of communication, have been introduced and communication through traditional media is also changing.
Inge Groot of KLM on Change
Crisis communication and reputation management is the theme of the latest in a series of lectures being organized by the VU in cooperation with MSLGROUP. In these lectures, both practice and theory are brought together.
The first speaker, Inge Groot, Director International PR & Emergency Communications at Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij N.V. (KLM), a carrier airline in the Netherlands, shared the changes that were brought about at KLM by social media. “(It is) not we, but the customer decides whether an incident is culpable or force majeure,” said Groot.
KLM is being hailed for the way in which the airline company uses social media. It reacts to every individual message and adjusts each reaction to the sender. Generally, the practice is to try to move customers who include sensitive information in their message or a complaint offline as soon as possible, or at least away from the public environment. However, KLM is forthcoming and transparent online.
Recently, when dealing with a Dutch celebrity who complained on Twitter about having to pay for extra luggage, they were able to resolve it without resorting to ‘corporate’ behaviour. Such customised and people-centric approaches and discussions are new to the aviation sector.
Improving Reputation In A Crisis
Groot illustrates her story with an example of the ash cloud incident in 2010. This case has been discussed in the media before, but hardly from a reputation point of view. Groot distinguishes between four types of crises:
- Incident/accident (accident with KLM aircraft or emergency landing)
- Hijacking (for example: a hijacking of a KLM aircraft or a bomb scare)
- Contingency (unforeseen circumstances with a lot of impact, like 9/11, mist, closed airspace, etc.)
- Calamities (such as: delay, lost luggage, complaints from VIPs)
In case of culpable incidents, maintenance of reputation is the highest attainable situation (damage control). The ash cloud falls under the third category and is non-culpable. In this case, improvement of reputation – in this window of opportunity – is the highest attainable situation. However, as Groot warns us:
It is the customer who decides whether a crisis is culpable.
It is therefore impossible to simply pick a strategy: it is necessary to listen to how customers and other stakeholders are talking about the incident first.
Irreversible Strategic Decisions
A crisis that is clearly non-culpable, like the ash cloud, offers a number of possibilities to strengthen reputation, e.g. by offering personal service very quickly. KLM suddenly became the trendsetter among the airline companies regarding social media. Customers and the media complimented the organization.
However, they realised soon that there was no way back. This became clear when, in the aftermath of the ash cloud, the KLM Board of Directors wanted to go back to the old way of communicating. This was not appreciated, exactly because of the empathic, transparent and personal approach they had used during the previous weeks.
Due to social media, organizations are hardly in control of the news flow about the incident anymore.
Dirk Oegema on the Need For Research
The second lecture by Dirk Oegema, Assistant Professor Communication Sciences at the VU. Oegema began by presenting several theories such as the Situational Crisis Communication theory by Coombs. He also touched upon an interesting strategy in the current age of transparency – stealing the thunder from another brand.
According to Oegema, crisis and issue management and procedures are getting too much attention. He pleads for more research and more theory. He believes that research into the effects of social media is critical: the effects of, for example, the amount of attention paid to the subject and the effect on the organization’s reputation or stock quotations.
Engagement and Service
During the discussion after both lectures, the importance of engagement and service emerged. The fact that you should show empathy in your reaction was obvious, but in the heat of a crisis, many organizations forget to do this. It is also very important to keep informing people continuously. When there is no factual or substantial information to give (yet), information about developments should be given.
The afternoon is concluded with the proposition:
A good crisis can be a god send.
And … practically all who were present agreed that if you handle things well, you emerge stronger from a crisis as an organization. This does not apply to a crisis where deaths and injuries are involved: in a crisis like that, everybody loses.
Good preparation helps your organization to emerge from a crisis stronger. This aspect did not come out during the presentations and discussion, but it is important to realize that you can prepare yourself for most situations. Especially in a time when many organizations are dealing (or have dealt with) a crisis, it is a must for every organization!
This post originally appeared in Dutch on Frankwatching.com under the title ‘Social Media: A Good Crisis Is A God-send’ and was reproduced with permission from the author.
Learn more at www.VuMSL.nl and connect with us at www.msl.nl to attend a lecture.