Q&A: Handling a Social Media Crisis, Content Marketing, and SEO

Singapore’s train SMRT corporation took a beating in December 2011 when it failed to listen to complaints exploding on social platforms due to disruptions to its service. In one incident, four trains were left without power, trapping 1,000 passengers without lighting and ventilation for more than an hour. Photos of smashed train windows circulated in social media from outraged Singaporeans.

Yet, SMRT didn’t discuss the service disruptions on its official Facebook page and continued with its marketing activities such as competitions and vouchers instead of addressing the complaints. It also listed on its Twitter account that the company only operates during working hours from Monday to Friday.

The SMRT incident exemplifies an emerging trend of social media redefining crises as they occur more frequently and gain far greater exposure more quickly, Andy Oliver, senior vice president, Asia Pacific for Lewis PR, told ClickZ.asia in an email interview.

In line with the release of his agency’s guide on how to tackle everyday digital challenges for the modern marketer, Oliver shared his thoughts on the importance of adapting communications workflow in response to social media, content marketing and SEO.

Excerpts of the Q&A below:

Question: Are companies investing in social media?

Andy Oliver: Organizations are starting to invest / adapt in this area, but it’s often when they, or their competitors have been burned. For many organizations, this shift in approach to crisis requires a wholesale change of communications approach, which may often run counter to the conservative nature of companies, especially in Asia.

There have been some high-profile examples where interns or junior staff have been responsible for responding to crises on social media channels, yet the same organization would never consider putting a junior person into the role of company spokesperson to face the media. This means we’re still finding that often the crisis itself is not the problem, it is the lack of, or poor response to, a viral crisis breaking out.

Q: Any examples?

Andy Oliver: There have been several examples in recent months, such as Dolce and Gabbana in Hong Kong, SMRT in Singapore, and Qantas in Australia. In many people’s eyes, these are examples of crises that were poorly handled in social media circles. The companies demonstrated a mixture of naivety, lack of planning, or lack of understanding of basic crisis communications and how to use social media.

For example, SMRT in Singapore demonstrated it’s still operating in the dark ages and is in open denial of how social media works. In an embarrassing episode for the company, it got burned as Singaporeans voiced their anger about issues with the transport system. The response from SMRT was not only lacking, but in the mainstream media, it came across as arrogant and patronizing.

It’s a classic example of an organization that suffers a complete disconnect with its customers, with no idea how to handle a crisis situation escalating in social media.

Time will tell if this experience will bring about change in its approach to social media, crisis, and communicating with its customers in general. It would not be a surprise if this were a slow transition.

Q: How should marketers approach content marketing?

Andy Oliver: Start with the audience. Think about what their lives are like, what are they interested in, how can you be useful to them, what would they like to share with their friends, family, and colleagues and work from there.

Yes, you would like to tell them how great your product is, but so will every other business. Get to understand your audience, identify trends and communities, create content strategies that will engage, excite, and entice them to know more.

And remember, the power of content marketing isn’t just in production. It’s also in facilitation. Offer the ability for your audience to create content – they are always more likely to share what they have generated than what you have provided, however good your content might be.

Q: Why should SEO (search engine optimization) be integrated with PR?

Andy Oliver: SEO as a standalone tactic is dying a slow death: it’s no longer just the domain of SEO professionals, all communications and marketing professionals need to be fluent in optimization.

SEO should be applied to all online marketing and PR initiatives. Search engines should deliver relevant, useful content to users and marketers need to publish content that answers consumer and media demand. Seeing that every company is now a media company, SEO being integrated into PR and communications is not a choice – it’s the only way to compete effectively.

Q: Are corporate blogs still relevant for brands?

Andy Oliver: Blogs are a fantastic channel for brands to develop thought leadership content and, very importantly, as an owned channel gives them control of that content, protecting brand image and positioning. A corporate blog is an ideal hub for a social media strategy with other channels such as Facebook, Twitter etc acting as the spokes.

Blogs offer organizations a useful feedback channel and it’s a great platform to communicate expertise. Plus, SEO optimized blog content is an important part of an integrated SEO-PR content strategy.

Oliver added that brand managers have to be experts in these “3 Cs”:

1. Communities: Understand audience trends and focus on interests rather than just age or whether they are male or female. Understanding community engagement is a new key skill.

2. Collaboration: Understand when to listen and when to talk – and be aware that once your brand is in the real world you no longer have full ownership.

3. Content: Create content that is useful, usable and shareable. Create conversations that will be enticing enough for others to share. And finally remember, the definition of content is no longer just words, but covers images, video, gaming, and applications. The age of carefully crafted brand messaging is dying, we now must focus our attention on developing brand experiences.

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