How to Handle a Social Media Crisis: 5 Key Lessons From Kentucky Kingdom
Today, I bring you a post from one of our newest team members, Danielle Ali.
As the mother of a 9-month-old kiddo, I run in a few “mommy” circles online. Plenty of conversations come and go every day, but recently one personal story sparked a social media showdown.
A mother of four, Renee Villatoro, visited the amusement park Kentucky Kingdom. While there, she was breastfeeding her baby under a nursing cover when a park employee approached her and asked her to feed her child in the restroom.
Have you ever been in an amusement park bathroom!? That’s not any place I’d want to have my lunch!
One single post by Renee’s friend in a Facebook group for Louisville mothers was all it took for folks to start flocking to her defense. Dozens began posting to the Kentucky Kingdom Facebook page, inquiring about the official policy, and asking the park if they knew that asking breastfeeding moms to relocate or cover up is against the law.
A Facebook Firestorm
How did Kentucky Kingdom react to the outrage on Facebook?
They deleted Facebook posts and comments from frustrated fans. Then, they fanned the flame by posting a status reiterating their unlawful stance (see below), with no apology to Renee. They even warned fans against making future posts on their Facebook page
Infuriated by this action, many moms contacted news outlets about what Kentucky Kingdom was doing. It wasn’t long before Kentucky Kingdom had a full-blown media crisis on their hands. Soon, the story had escalated beyond social media and had started to become fodder for the Louisville news outlets and even the Huffington Post.
After days of increasing protests, the folks at Kentucky Kingdom finally realized they needed to change course. Their CEO posted a personally written statement that, while still lacking, at least acknowledged that their policy was wrong and showed attention was being paid to the matter. The angry posts died down, but the PR damage had been done.
5 Tips to Handle a Social Media Crisis
As a mom, I definitely felt some righteous indignation at Kentucky Kingdom’s fumbles. But as a social media pro, I cringed for the poor folks managing this page, thinking from experience of the myriad of reasons why this went off the rails.
If your business ever gets in hot water online, here are the lessons you can learn from this story.
1. Know your audience.
I’m sure Kentucky Kingdom would call themselves a “family friendly” brand. What does that mean to their customers though? Clearly not what they thought.
While this mom actually chose to use a nursing cover, some don’t for several reasons. Public breastfeeding – covered or not – is protected by the law. Unfortunately, this amusement park is far from the first company to not understand or honor that. As Renee herself put it, “My real issue is not that I am ‘offended’ or ‘upset,'” referencing the CEO’s words in his statement. “This is a social issue.”
Many in Kentucky Kingdom’s target market (parents) clearly are breastfeeding advocates and know their rights. Understanding the psychographics of your audience is one of the first steps of creating a social media plan. If you skip it, you could end up with a blunder on your hands.
2. Don’t ever underestimate word of mouth.
Remember that Renee didn’t even post about this situation herself. And it was initially shared in a niche Facebook group, not the official Kentucky Kingdom Facebook page. Yet it didn’t take long for the conversation to catch fire elsewhere.
Social media is a powerful tool for word of mouth, so every interaction a customer has with your brand could soon be all anyone’s talking about. The best social media plans start offline, when you are training your employees.
3. You can’t delete your way out of a mess.
Time and time again, we see examples from brands that think if they just delete the negative Facebook comments, eventually everyone will give up. I’ve learned the hard way that whether you’re a small business or a global corporation, transparency reigns. In fact, deleting posts can infuriate folks even more.
Treat social media interactions like you would in-person customer service. Would you kick your customer out just because they had a complaint? Use courtesy if you want to keep situations from getting out of hand.
4. Act like each situation is a crisis, before it becomes one.
The best way to keep from “pulling a Kentucky Kingdom” is to start with excellent service that honors your customer and doesn’t give them horror stories to relate online.
However, no company is totally immune to gaffes by employees. That’s why it’s crucial to have a crisis plan in place before it happens. Identify point people to bring to the table to craft a response in case of emergency. Make sure to get your facts straight first instead of getting defensive or trying to deflect blame. “The customer’s always right” is an adage for a reason!
5. Respond quickly.
It was several days before Kentucky Kingdom’s CEO finally stepped in to correct the situation publicly. Days are like light years in today’s media climate. You might think it’s a good idea to wait and see if the ire dies down, but that’s usually too big a risk to take.
It’s better to show your online community right away that you’re listening and taking their concerns seriously. That’s why it’s key to always have a “social media crisis go team” at the ready, so you can act quickly with an appropriate response in these situations.
The silver lining of these unfortunate mishaps is that we can always learn from the mistakes of others.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
There was plenty of things the folks at Kentucky Kingdom could have done to head off their social media crisis. If you find yourself in similar shoes, though, we hope you won’t just stop the bleeding. It’s crucial to reflect on these incidents as a company and find ways to demonstrate you’ve learned from your mistakes.
In the case of Kentucky Kingdom, instead of just issuing statements, why not go a step further and adopt the “Breastfeeding Welcome Here” sign throughout the park?
They could even reach out to local breastfeeding support groups to provide their members with discounted passes, letting them know that they are, of course, welcome to nurse anywhere in the park they’d like.
Steps like this show that you have truly heard your customers concerns and aren’t simply paying lip service.
Have you been through a social media crisis? How did you handle it? What lessons did you learn?
Danielle has joined the Blue Kite Marketing team as a social media strategist. She is a fellow Mizzou Tiger who has managed online communities for small businesses and global brands. Learn more about Danielle on LinkedIn, or give her a shout at @flybluekite, where she tweets alongside Laura.