First it was the Fox affiliate in San Francisco reading insulting and concocted names of the four pilots involved in the Asiana crash.
Then it was the wizards of social media at Bank of America.
I’m not making this stuff up. Who could?
Both cases created crises for various corporate and government officials and reinforced the key concept that a crisis can hit without notice from anywhere, its flames fanned by the hot winds of social media, and you have to be prepared to deal with it. [Thanks to Peter Osborne in EMA’s Cincinnati office and Danielle Gerhart in our Syracuse office for noting these head-shaking events.]
In San Fran, a KTVU anchor read the names of the pilots, which the station said a reporter confirmed with the NTSB. It turned out that an unnamed intern approved the spelling of the names.
She proceeded to read from a teleprompter the names that may have originated as a racially insensitive joke online — “Sum Ting Wong,” “Wi Tu Lo,” “Ho Lee Fuk,” and “Bang Ding Ow”— while a TV graphic displayed the names next to a photo of the charred cabin.
“We made several mistakes when we received this information,” KTVU’s apology on its website read. “KTVU accepts full responsibility for this mistake.”
An apology is good. A little care in the handling of information and not rushing with it to be first is even better.
At the always targetable Bank of America, an apparently large and sophisticated team of social media experts came out impersonal. According to Digiday:
Brands are supposed to use social media to show their human side, but apparently Bank of America – and the alleged humans that run its customer service Twitter feed – missed that memo.
When New Jersey dad Mark Hamilton wrote an anti-foreclosure message in chalk on the sidewalk in front of a Manhattan Bank of America branch, he was told to leave by cops. So he took to Twitter: “Just got chased away by
#NYPD 4 ‘obstructing sidewalk’.” he tweeted under his handle @darthmarkh.
What happened next underscored the world’s third largest bank (according to Forbes) utter lack of a grasp on how the social media platform works:
A series of Tweets ensued, all of which came from different people, but spoke in formulaic bankese and took impersonal to a new extreme.
The immediate and understandable assumption was that the bank’s Twitter feed is run by a bot – a program that automatically replies to tweets that mention it. Bafflingly, this turns out not to be the case. A bank spokesperson explained to Digiday that real people are, in fact, behind all of the brand’s tweets.
“All of our interactions are personal and handled by a team of over 100 social-media servicing representatives,” the bank wrote in a statement released to Digiday. ”We respond to mentions of the bank to help identify underlying customer issues in addition to direct requests for help.”
But in this instance, the bank was responding to activists’ anger with vapid offers to help with their accounts. With its utter lack of online competence, Bank of America merely reinforced these angry tweeters’ view of the company as a faceless, heartless conglomerate.
“Our social media servicing representatives have assisted thousands of customers though our Twitter service,” the bank wrote in its email. With help like that, though, who needs enemies?
Out of the blue, a social media crisis reinforcing an unfortunate stereotype that Bank of America is too large to be sensitive. All the work those 100 or so experts did is suddenly at risk in an instant.
Maybe instead of a statement, the bank could have discussed its social media response policy and provided a real person to speak to Digiday.
Everyone knows you can’t coach stupid, but when stupid is staring you in the face, you should be able to deal with it effectively.
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 http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.