Over the past few weeks, I’ve been stupefied by the sheer ignorance of some of America’s largest corporations. First, bad PR happened to Southwest Airlines and now, Progressive is embattled in an online  firestorm that is threatening its customer base and image. When will corporate America learn? A social media crisis plan must be in place, the moment you join the online marketing world.

 

You know it's bad when Wil Wheaton starts tweeting...

{Flo Will Never Be The Same…}

Matt Fisher recently lost his sister, Katie,  in a horrific accident where the other driver was impaired and under-insured. Progressive insured Katie and although she was not at fault for the accident, details are emerging that they actually defended Katie’s killer in court to emancipate themselves from paying the death benefit and contractual obligations. Matt’s original blog about Progressive is here. Sadly, Progressive probably isn’t the only company to do this and, it’s done more often than we’d like to think.

As you can imagine, Twitter, Facebook and other sites started blowing up with news about Matt’s story. Progressive communicated back to the public only on Twitter. Gawker posted a damning article about Progressive simply copying and pasting those who had tweeted the link. Why so damning? Progressive forgot the first rule of social media: Be REAL. By copying and pasting without any personalization, Progressive gave the public a very poor perception of how it handles its brand in a crisis. The robotic and unsympathetic tweets angered the public more than the company could have imagined.

PR Rule #1: Think before you speak. People will remember that you wanted them to forget.

The worst part happened on Facebook. Just like the Southwest Airlines ticket refund disaster, Progressive hasn’t yet engaged in any communication about Matt’s article with the public. Hundreds upon hundreds of Facebook posts from the public and fans, alike show just how heated a one-way conversation can get. By not taking the time to address the concerns, the postings went from one to hundreds in a matter of hours. Imagine how much better Progressive could have fared if their CEO, Glenn Renwick taped a brief statement and showed his customers and future customers, that they truly care about their image and their ethics. Imagine if Glenn’s response had spread instead of Matt’s story. Progressive could have come out as a thoughtful and well-organized company in the face of PR chaos. Too little, too late.

PR Rule #2: Calibrate a heartfelt response and respond quickly.

 

As usual, no response from the company on Facebook. It simply allowed the public to comment without engaging with them in meaningful dialog.

 

 

{The Truth Is…}

No company is too big or too small to have a crisis plan, ready to go should something unforeseen happen. Don’t be the the face of the next PR crisis. SocialMediaToday recently published the, “10 Must-Have Elements for a Social Media Crisis Plan.” I highly recommend reading the article and looking at what you may be missing in your own preparation. One important thing most companies forget? If you have an agency that handles your accounts, a plan should be developed that includes both a scenario of the agency handling the crisis and the crisis being taken in-house. The truth is, you can’t afford NOT to be prepared. Social Media is far too unforgiving.