PR crisis, with the most viral ones coming from Pepsi and everyone’s least favorite airline, United. While the situations differ greatly, the resulting PR misfires have one thing in common: both companies underestimated the power of social media in creating an echo chamber of outrage, and offered up tone-deaf, highly out-of-touch responses that were inappropriate for the level of public backlash they were facing. But had Pepsi and United simply listened (via social media) both companies could have better responded to their respective audiences.
While Pepsi’s ad was intended to reach millennials, reactions on Twitter (largely from their target audience) were swift and fierce, as a slew of Tweets accused Pepsi of appropriating the Black Lives Matter movement for profit. Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., also Tweeted an image of her father mid-peaceful protest with the caption, “if only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.” Pepsi quickly pulled the ad, and issued an apology saying it “missed the mark” but many consumers pledged across social media to boycott the brand.
Just as Pepsi’s colossal misstep was fading from memory, United Airlines said “my turn” and experienced what was maybe the worst PR week in recent memory after forcibly removing a passenger from an overbooked flight. After dozens of passengers livestreamed the altercation on social media, the footage went viral and United Airlines released a rushed – then revised – apology at least twice. This didn’t do United any favors, as many thought the CEO underestimated the situation. This inspired a new wave of outrage.
In both situations, the communications team failed to understand why people were upset, and issue a response commensurate to public opinion. This is where social listening would have been incredibly valuable.
Social listening is the process of monitoring what users online are saying about a company or brand to better inform communications strategies. In-depth social listening goes beyond @mentions or direct comments on a company’s social media profile or website, and instead, casts a wider net, tracking hashtags, keywords and phrases, and monitoring public non-social sources like blogs, forums, reviews and news outlets. Social listening can also incorporate sentiment, assigning a positive, negative or neutral score to each mention found. This makes results especially easy to filter and can raise an alarm if negative sentiment begins to spike.
Pepsi and United likely already use social media monitoring tools, but clearly didn’t align those with their PR department and crisis management team well enough. Both companies would have seen their negative scores soar as online users reacted to the news – even more ambiguous spikes in #united or #pepsi could have raised some alarm bells.
Have you used listening tools to inform a company decision in a time of uncertainty? If not, you still have the chance to try it… we hear United is hiring.