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How to use Twitter to mitigate a crisis

How to use Twitter to mitigate a crisis Denise Zimmerman

On Twitter you can never be sure what you will get. And what you get can come on quickly and unexpectedly. The rush to tweet is on. But not so fast -- you don't have to be everything to everyone; planning, setting and managing expectations, establishing your message platform as well as aligning resources are essential to gaining the most value from your Twitter channel and being prepared for "what-if" scenarios.

So what if you haven't really thought about it, let alone prepared? To get your thinking going, consider some actual tweets in response to predictable scenarios, illustrated here with sales and promotional events, along with the unpredictable, such as the swine flu (H1N1) outbreak.

The illustrated scenarios began by following and monitoring brands that were relatively active on Twitter with clearly defined messaging platforms such as Moosejaw (an outdoor clothing retailer with attitude) and Tyson Foods, as well as other brands that had reasonable, active platforms. Monitoring top Twitter trends was also key to identifying these evolving and potentially challenging scenarios. 

From the Colonel to Tyson Foods, Princess Cruises to MoosejawMadness, and others, here's what they would tweet -- in 140 characters or less.

Predictable, probable and possible scenarios
What would you tweet if you have a sale or a promotion and want to make the most of the messaging in regards to tone, codes, linkage, platform integration, etc.? And what if things go awry, from blips, to bloops, to blunders? Here are some direct tweets from brands when things are going right, followed by some examples from when things go wrong.

MoosejawMadness: "We've got a 20% off Sale going on spring styles from Roxy, Element, Billabong and Volcom (Use Code 741.) No Big deal. http://bit.ly/Vwxtn"

BillionDllrBabe: "Still time to save on OLIVER PEOPLES @ http://www.billiondollarbabes.com/. Take $25 off your purchase of $100 or more with code TWITTEROP. Enjoy!"

walmartdeals: "Walmart.com - George - Big Mens Cuffed Pleat-Front Wrinkle-Resistant Pants - $10.00 http://bit.ly/16DADi"

WholeFoods: "New Store Opening! Annapolis, MD. Find Muriel, Store Team Leader on Facebook & win a $250 Gift Card!"

But what would you tweet if you gave the wrong information about a promotion? Here is how a couple of brands corrected themselves.

1800flowers: "Do u know our sis brand, Plow & Hearth? Check 'em out plowhearth.com. They sent us Free Ship promo for $50+ orders 'til 4/27 Enjoy!"

1800flowers: "Minor bobo on my tweet about our sis brand. Please use code TWEET for the free ship offer on Plowhearth.com :)

Did you know that you can delete a tweet? This last tweet disappeared and was replaced with the following:

1800flowers: "Ooops.. forgot to give out the code TWEET for our sis brand Plowhearth.com free ship offer! Code is TWEET :)"

Here's how Moosejaw handled some accidental misinformation.

MoosejawMadness: "@corineaubin Actually I got that wrong. Moosejaw Rewards orders can be EXCHANGED for something else, but not RETURNED. So sorry about it."

These tweets represent some fairly typical, predictable and more easily managed "what-if" scenarios to make the most of your messaging and to correct relatively minor blips. But what do you tweet if your promotion goes totally awry?

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Consider the recent KFC promotion, the "Oprah Winfrey Show Kentucky Grilled Chicken 2-piece Meal Coupon." KFC became a top trending topic for days. KFC was already active on Twitter with its @kfc_colonel account and got right into the fray. The tweets evolved from enthusiastic, to addressing specific negative customer feedback, to directing folks to a full-blown apology from the company president when KFC couldn't deliver on the offer.

Here are some highlights of the Twitter stream and how KFC managed it via its Twitter channel.

As KFC climbed the list of Twitter's trending topics, the company continued to tweet and interact with other users, as evidenced by the following tweets from @kfc_colonel directed at other users.

  • "The Colonel thinks it's a great day to be an @Oprah fan."

  • "@LtSanders KGC has received very positive reviews. Sorry you didn't enjoy it, but thanks for letting us know. I'll pass the feedback along."

  • "@BCWray Give the Colonel's Customer Service team a call. They'll want to hear about your experience and they can help. 1-800-CALL-KFC. Thx."

Then things started to really turn. KFC couldn't meet demand and started to give out rainchecks, much to the chagrin of those on Twitter. Here's a sampling of tweets from the aftermath:

  • rdf_pr: "RT @evamadera: I didn't get a chance because my KFC didn't honor the coupons yesterday. [Didn't honor your coupon???] #GIveawayFAIL"

  • MsKae: "Does KFC hate moms? El Pollo Loco will take your KFC coupon on Mother's Day! http://bit.ly/16DkpB"

  • saizmeup: "KFC will burn!!"

  • Dame_Rebecca: "KFC is having to give out rainchecks now? Seriously? LOL http://tinyurl.com/d8sf2t"

  • scottbridwell: "So people are really upset over the #KFC coupon thing...really, it's free food people...get a life."

Soon after, the "Colonel" was apologizing, directing people to an appearance by KFC's president on Oprah to apologize and a YouTube video from the president, and even directly messaging customers. KFC responded in a timely, effective manner and did so directly, honestly, and with authenticity. It is quite certain that whoever was responsible for the company's Twitter presence was not left alone on the front lines, as he had official responses to direct people to in order to help mitigate a difficult scenario. Perhaps he shouldn't have promised to direct message everyone though?


Sales, promotions, wrong information, and even the KFC campaign are all possible scenarios you can plan for. But what about scenarios that you can't predict, or even think of? What do you tweet then?


Unpredictable scenarios
What would you Tweet if something unpredictable happens that impacts or is relevant to your business? The most extreme recent example is the swine flu outbreak, which tore across the twitterverse and other channels.

While there were some "irresponsible" tweets and spam messages telling consumers not to eat pork because of swine flu, Tyson Foods decided to tackle the situation head-on via its @TysonFoods account.

Tyson Foods' Twitter messaging platform focuses on hunger relief efforts and is tied to the company's relief website. The tweets relative to swine flu were proactive and consistent with their message platform of helping. Tyson even used the hashtag #swineflu so that folks searching on the trend would see the company's messaging.

In addition, Tyson tied the outbreak to issues relevant to its cause by including shortened links to an article about swine flu and food insecurity.

The outbreak directly impacted Princess Cruise Lines and their customers as well. While its Twitter platform is mostly promotional and experiential, Princess Cruises used the @princesscruises channel to link to the company's swine flu updates, credit offers, and itinerary adjustments, creating a direct link to its other communications about the outbreak to better serve customers. There was no observed direct messaging to customers.

While no one could have predicted the swine flu scenario, there are ways to lay a foundation for "what-if" scenarios and plan for the expected, as well as the unexpected.  

Here are some key points to build on and establish a "what-if" scenario messaging platform:

  • Define your Twitter message platform, tone and content upfront. Identify the value that this can bring to your organization and brand. This will help set and manage expectations and guide your messaging as well as identify required resources for different scenarios.

  • Consider that Twitter's impact is exponential. It is more than just your immediate followers. It is their followers and their followers, other media channels, and so forth.

  • Identify other resources and channels to handle a scenario that may require a more demanding response.

  • Follow the top Twitter trends, selected brands (i.e., competitors, aspirational).

  • Monitor the conversation for your own brand to help prepare and respond to certain "scenarios."

  • Twitter is not an isolated messaging platform. Outline "what-if" scenarios and how you might respond, from the possible to the improbable. Make sure that for each scenario you address what sort of information you might need and from whom and where you would need it from.

  • Integrate, communicate, connect, and work with others in your organization as appropriate, particularly in scenarios that are far-reaching and more business critical. 

  • Be open and flexible to evolving, learning and adjusting.

As a general rule, plan for the probable and possible, expect the unexpected, manage expectations, and exceed them.

Denise Zimmerman is president and chief strategy officer of NetPlus Marketing Inc. Follow her on Twitter: @dzimmerman.

Denise is President and Chief Strategy Officer at Netplus, a top 25 iMedia Agency. She and the broader team at Netplus, consistently delight and amaze clients with a partnership approach that delivers jaw dropping results and measurable business...

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