In my opinion the results of the Romanian elections (October 2014) provided me the latest example of how important and most of it how powerful new online ways like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and other social media channels are changing the way media is produced, distributed and consumed. Furthermore, as users involvement regularly lead front pages of newspaper and television bulletins, the whole idea and frontiers of distributing information changed, with a big impact on the traditional brands and firms. This new transparency in the world creates new challenges in so many fields so the main question of how should a company handle a negative impact in this new social world arise.
This thesis aims to outline the best practices that every company could keep in mind for having a good crisis plan to cope with the problems that can appear in social media. In order to do this, i decided to investigate some theory regarding what crisis management in social media is affecting. With an eye on the theory, i then started a case study in which I did a comparison between two companies which handled two crises, one respecting the strategies and the plan I created and the other failing to comply on the standards of respecting a successful crisis management. Also I further discussed about the developing of an application which might provide a good insight and a way to monitor the mentions on the web.
The main contribution of this thesis is the connection between crisis management and social media. I investigate how to successfully handle a crisis within social media. I wish also to bring to your notice the differences that appear between smaller and larger companies regarding the way they handle crisis management in social media. I believe the important points brought up regarding how to successfully manage crises in social media, can be used by managers wanting to develop a new or update their old crisis plan, on how to handle crises in social media. I have the hope that these points will get well-used by companies and will help them to better handle crises in social media.
Over the last years, the Internet has become the most important way to communicate between the companies or with stakeholders, referring here to customers, employees, investors and traditional media. Companies, organizations or groups are using the Internet to exchange information about their business, or to respond to questions coming from their customers. That is why handling social media has become a critical point especially in spreading negative information, and today's companies are forced to include some very well organized plans in order to combat the problem. The most popular channels available today are considered to be social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, and also blogs. By the end of 2016 there were over 270 million blogs all over the internet, with multiple studies in which is very well shown that blogs are the second in social networking after Facebook. In comparison, Facebook was founded in 2004 and the statistics shows that they have 1,59 billion monthly active users. Another way to communicate or interact online beside Facebook, blogs and Twitter, is considered to be Youtube, where you can share your own videos, rate and comment other videos, being the worlds' largest video-sharing site.(Huang et al. 2010).
Since social media makes it easier now to share information with hundreds or even thousands of persons, WOM (Word of Mouth Lovelock & Wirtz, 2010) has grown stronger in the last couple of years spreading both positive and negative information. It is shown in several studies and articles that people tend to spread negative WOM to a greater extent than the positive ones. (Solomon et al. 2010). A good example for this can be that of a dissatisfied customer who can create a website or use the social networks for spreading their opinions. In this case, if the company ignores what is written on the online channels, it could turn into a crisis, since people do not get any response.(Gonzalez-Herrero &Smith, 2008). Today crisis managers must take into account rumours, copycat websites, and different forms of cyber-terrorism which could be difficult to handle, forcing them to be introduced into every organization crisis plan. Some examples of companies where customers have creates spoof copy-cat sites are McDonalds, United Airlines, Mercedes-Benz, Intel, Ford.
It has now become clear that we cannot longer address to customers the way we were used to do some years ago, since people are increasingly getting used and supported by latest technologies to communicate through social media. The traditional approach of companies for keeping contact with customers using press release is now available to the public on the company's homepage.
2. Industry analysis and current online solutions
Social listening is about identifying a competitive niche, a dangerous political move, provides an accurate feedback or it's an efficient way to hear negative buzz about topics, which in fact will help you cope with them.
Becoming a social listener is taking the problem beyond the market research, beyond a sampling of chosen group or people. Market research reflects one point in time and usually it is partial based on the researcher's interest. When analyzing an industry rating or customer satisfaction polls, they are all static and accurate only on a selected interest. Social listening is more than this because the data input in the analysis of the market is a live one, continuous and unprompted. You can find out what the customers really want, not by your questions, but by the interaction between them and your organization.
This can be seen as the shift from static biased data to a continuously source of real-time feedback which can lead to a trend or viral news.
Social listening is not only about hearing your customer, it is more into what the market wants or might change, being an important key of prediction and identification of consumer's new preferences. This is about keeping up with the new industry trends, what is it said about competitors and how market changes.
For the moment there is no application which uses a tool for monitoring and listening the social media in Romania, but there are several online applications which operates in Romania also.
2.1. The social media listeners
Keyhole looks at hashtags, keywords, URLs and usernames, from your Twitter and Instagram accounts. Data is retrieved in real-time and you can also view historical information or activity levels in different parts of the world.
Hootsuite is a popular social media monitoring software that can work with different social media networks and platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Foursquare, Instagram or WordPress. It is possible to schedule posts across multiple platforms and you can delegate tasks if there is more than one person to handle the account.
Twitter Counter helps you track millions of Twitter users and stats, and you can also see mentions, retweets, historical data, can create custom reports and graphs or download reports.
Digimind is a tool that measures sentiment, helping you to find keywords that may be negative, neutral or positive. You can also see how the customers perceives your brand and your competition.
3. Problem Discussion
The importance and power of the social web must be taken into consideration because this gave birth to both opportunities and threats. It is true that a company's management defines a business' reputation, but as the power of social web increased, what is said about it in social media is crucial. A company's reputation can be easily damaged and it may be incredible difficult to recover a good reputation. An often scenario of a problem occurs when a secret information leaks to the public. Using the Internet, now it is very easy to spread quickly the leaked information and damage the business, creating a crisis that arises faster than before. Another type of crises could take birth because of a bribery scandal, product recall, environmental spill, and so forth. (Pearson &Clair, 1998).
Companies need to keep an eye on what customers write about them on social networks as blogs, Facebook and Twitter. For that to be done, companies can use a monitoring software to follow the information flow. A policy is also needed for handling the crisis, especially now with the development of technologies. “In crisis, if an organization neither confirms nor denies information about critical incidents, rumours may fill the void and amplify the threat” (Pearson and Clair, 1998). There are several factors contributing on a company's successful handling of a crisis. A successful crisis management can be defined as when a company's activity can continue to run at an acceptable level even after a crisis strikes. One way of managing it successfully is consisted of alliances built between organizations and stakeholders keen to maintaining the communication during a crisis. It is also very helpful to respond to a crisis as a team, because the decisions can be taken fast. The most necessary thing Is to be always active in social media, to be where the customers are, connect and respond to them in the same channel. Therefor companies need to be proactive and create a solid plan on how to handle a crisis in social media.
There is also a positive side of the Internet, that of building a brand image and maintaining a reputation. If taken seriously into account and managed well, the brand image of a corporation could be strengthen and constitutes a very good advantage in coping with a difficult situation that might come up. This area of social media combined with crisis management has recently started to be studied, requiring a lot of further researches.
The purpose of this study is to examine the effects of social web and mainly to identify critical success factors for a company in order to combat a crisis in social media.
3.1. Branding and organization identity
A. Lambert created a symbolic model of an organization identity with two structural levels. The visible level, from the outside, it's composed of visual elements of organization (name, logo, colours), elements which are accessible to the public and which in fact consists the interaction of the company with the customers. The less visible level, the hidden one is that where we can find the fundamentals of the organization, the structure, ways of communication, organizational behavior and beliefs. These are only revealed to internal employees, and they are representing the key or basic elements of the organization.
The perception of a company reflects in the perception of the brand which is defined in theory as a marketing act. Branding a service is a totally different thing from branding a product because products are tangible items which are made to be used. In the contrast, services are emotional experiences which are delivered with a specific purpose.
Organizations usually have the desire to build a strong identity, which may be defined as distinct or different values which become associated with this specifically brand.
All the values, beliefs and attitude of the personnel will be reflected in how the organization is perceived by customers or stakeholders. This is why it is required a strong control of the brand image, as the reputation of the company can alter in moments of crisis. A reputation can be seen as something that offers information about the historical results or reliability, which can or cannot add value to a stakeholder or customer. Reputation and branding are the most important factors of any organization, and it can easily be altered by the way the company acts, communicate and controls a situation.
This is main reason of companies being hurt, as the reputation and the image can be seriously damaged during a crisis. The relationship between the stakeholders and the company can suffer or may be terminated. This is why a reputation is critical, because it has the power to win customers, attract investors or bring professionals employees which can obtain better results and add value to the company.
Brand familiarity is seen as the sum of product-related experiences which consumers have been accumulating thorough the product usage and product advertising. A consumer becomes familiar with a brand when there are some associations with the brand in a unique and strong manner. This plays a very important role in the consumer's perception when a crisis strikes, as this will measure the amount of defending explanation and counterarguments, a consumers generate.
When a crisis strikes, all these factors are affected and puts an organization in a threating condition. This is the moment when social media represents the crucial key to success or failure, because all the stakeholders and customers are relying on the information which is presented.
Balmer –Gray model is a complex and more accurate one, which shows the multiple interactions between the organization identity, internal and external factors which have an influence on the identity and how target-groups determines the image and reputation of an organization.
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