Companies must consider social media backlash in all public decisions


Repeat after me…better, carve this into your desk: “I will always consider the populist power of social media as part of any decision I make involving my company and its reputation.”

Do you really think this is excessive? Ask Progressive Insurance Co., tarred and feathered as Regressive Insurance Co. in numerous social media broadsides.

The case that suspended Progressive over a deep chasm on a unravelling jute bridge is very complicated. Follow the link above and read the New York Times’ account. It’s fascinating.

But the key takeaway for us today, as EMA crisis management guru Peter Kapcio points out, is that one person, armed with the knowledge of social media’s power, can bring a multi-national corporation to its knees, injure its bottom line and unsettle its future.

It’s as if the speaker’s post in London’s Hyde Park suddenly patched in to every Ipod on the planet and broadcast his broadside.

Still doubt it? Here’s what the Times’ consumer/insurance expert concluded about Progressive’s performance in this case:

Progressive sure seems to have done absolutely everything wrong here. It paid out three liability claims, doubled down in court on its interpretation of the evidence that was behind those payouts, lost in court, was roundly mocked online, will pay the underinsured motorist claim to the Fishers after all and is now also paying them a separate settlement to avoid a hearing before the state insurance commissioner.   

Progressive can run “Flo” ads till 2020 and it might not get that bad taste out of consumers’ mouths.

Earlier this year we wrote about one customer’s tweet about poor restaurant service at a national chain that imperiled the company’s business. Other examples abound. Social media give one person with a righteous cause the ability to enlist hundreds of thousands of people in support with the push of a button. It’s like the proverbial drop of water that builds to a raging river. It cannot be stopped.

That’s why, when Progressive’s lawyers sat down to discuss the Fisher case, they should have asked out loud:

“What these decisions we’re making look like to consumers if the family fights us, puts its view out to Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr and we come across as a cynical, clinical, cutthroat insurance company?”

Because I’ll tell you what. They’re asking that question right now.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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