Welcome to the 7th Chapter of “The Ultimate Guide to Digital Marketing in a Data-driven World”. If you missed Chapter 6 you can read it here.
This is one of a series of 11 posts or if you want to get the entire book in one hit you can download the full book here.
After reading the last chapter, you can appreciate the fact that while good ideas can come from anywhere, great ideas need to germinate in four dimensions.
In this Chapter we look at how to develop the ongoing journey of discovery, or what we call the never-ending campaign.
We will focus on what it means to ‘live in beta’ – the ability of brands and their stories to iterate and evolve – and the need for a content calendar to keep your activity on track. We will also cover the need to have escalation and crisis-management plans in place should you be exposed to negative commentary.
Living in beta
Today’s marketing world, which is largely driven by technology and software companies, can be described as a beta-world. No longer are technology products coming off the production line after years of being perfected.
Lead times to market have shortened dramatically, and therefore competitive advantage has diminished. This means that, as marketers, you will need to accept that your product will never be 100% ready – it will never satisfy 100% of the market 100% of the time.
Your ‘production mentality’ now entails releasing your product into the market (or a market segment), allowing time to update and refine it, then releasing it into wider markets. To steer its way through this iterative process, your business will require more agile, flexible and collaborative business structures and processes, as discussed in Chapter 3.
Your marketing activity will also be subject to an iterative process. Linear brand stories can be created – hence the content calendar – but you need to be prepared for non-linear activity as well, especially in social media.
Consumer reaction and engagement may open up completely new opportunities, and it may also present challenges you have never seen before – some good, some bad. So before we look at creating the content calendar, let’s examine how to prepare a crisis plan and escalation process to handle negative social media and consumer backlash activity.
When talking to today’s management, we at TrinityP3 still come across nervousness about approaching social media. Well, that nervousness is understandable. As we’ve said a few times now, we no longer do our work on a traditional one-way street. We now operate on a two-way digital street, where brands invite conversation and exchange.
That means you have to expect the good, the bad and the ugly. This is especially so in regards to social media, which is why it is critical that you ‘listen’ to digital conversations. You should invest in monitoring software as well as resources that allow you to listen during those key periods of the week, or times of day, that impact the most on your business.
It is also important to train your resources to identify what is a crisis (or potentially a crisis) as opposed to what is not a crisis. The word ‘crisis’ is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as:
noun (plural crises)
- a time of intense difficulty or danger … a time when a difficult or important decision must be made … a crisis point
Let’s explore this definition in relation to social media.
‘A time of intense difficulty or danger’
One or two negative comments about your business may be undesirable, but these are unlikely to have a significant impact on what you do. However, if the comments snowball, sparking ongoing commentary, then you will be facing a backlash and a potential crisis – this is what happened in the wake of the 2006 BP oil spill off Alaska. There is a fine line between weathering some heat and burying your head in the sand.
We recommend looking at such commentary as a mirror of your business actions. If you can hold your head up high and say that the discussion is a storm in a teacup because your business practices are ethical, then you most likely aren’t facing a crisis. Your social community will probably negate the naysayers, or you can state the facts in a clearly worded response and satisfactorily address the issue.
However, if the commentary continues to escalate, targeting a specific business practice or action that your business has undertaken, then you will have a big decision to make. This often happens when a brand covers up an issue or does not openly respond to the market within a satisfactory period of time. In these circumstances, the brand could be in danger.
‘When a difficult or important decision must be made’
If negative commentary requires you to make an important decision, then you may be facing a crisis. Be careful, though, to distinguish between a bad outcome and a crisis. A bad outcome is short-lived and can be openly addressed by a business before it becomes a full-blown crisis. A crisis requires a difficult decision to be made as it has already fundamentally affected your business practice.
‘A crisis point’
There is a point at which negativity tips into crisis. This is generally when the conversation is being communicated by a large proportion of your customer base, or it has transcended geographic boundaries. When this happens, the commentary has the potential to significantly impact your business.
Social media is a great weapon in the fight to promote your brand, but you have to realise that it can also be a dangerous weapon in the hands of those who want to bring your business down. Information travels rapidly nowadays, which means that messages can be beyond your control within minutes.
If you are at the point of crisis, you must implement your crisis plan.
The crisis plan
There are generally seven key steps in a crisis plan.
Step 1: Internal alert
You will need an escalation policy that clearly identifies which executive managers – all the way up to the CEO – need to be alerted to the situation. This policy should also identify the level of monitoring that will be required throughout a crisis. The important thing here is that you acknowledge at all levels of the business that there is indeed a crisis.
Step 2: Rapid response
Be prepared to respond rapidly using the channel where the negativity was created. While you may not have a clear legal position to state, nor a solution to offer, it is best practice to at least indicate that you are aware of the situation and are taking action to investigate the matter and potentially address it.
It is important to be open, honest and heartfelt in your response. You are dealing with human emotions here, so empathy is your ally. Many brands make the mistake of putting out a full legal transcript that ultimately just seems cold and calculated. This can often fuel a social media fire rather than put it out.
Step 3: Be sorry – apologise
Often, the hardest decision to make is to say you’re sorry for creating the negativity. But as the old saying goes, ‘It is sometimes better to lose a battle than lose the war’.
The fastest way to be truly forgiven is to say that you’re sorry – just cast your mind back to Bill Clinton and Tiger Woods dealing with their infidelities, and to the Australian Government’s apology regarding the stolen generations.
Step 4: Be open and communicate
It is important to be proactive and offer answers to as many of the questions that you face as possible. Rather than reply to one message at a time, you can create a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ section on your website or a set up a microsite that conveys your responses to the key questions that have been raised.
It is easiest to direct people to these via your call centre and owned social media channels. It is also good practice to distribute this material to your permission-based database via email – if appropriate, you can also text the database a short alert message directing people to a web page.
Your FAQs should do the following:
- Acknowledge that the issue has arisen and explain how the company found out about it
- Clearly detail the observed facts
- If possible, provide some of these facts or details in the form of imagery, rather than just words – this can help to humanise the situation
- Outline who has been alerted within your organisation based on your escalation plan, so that people are aware of your reaction and the specific actions that you are taking
- Highlight any real or potential impacts – it is important to make people aware of all the relevant scenarios and to assure them that you will provide full details of what is happening as soon as possible
- Give contact information to your customers so that they can contact key stakeholders (real people) within the business – again, the aim is to humanise the situation, and also to manage the negativity rather than go into hiding in the hope it will all go away
- Finally, outline the steps you will take to prevent a recurrence of the issue – you may decide to update the wording of this statement when your final standing is confirmed
Step 5: Release the pressure
It has become best practice to proactively create an owned media property where customers can vent their feelings and opinions, and where you can respond if appropriate.
The thinking here is that it is better to have a designated zone in which people can focus their anger and release their tensions rather than have a myriad channels opening up around your business. This will also provide a platform for identifying any subsequent crises that may arise from the initial situation.
Step 6: Take it offline
You need to know when to take significantly negative commenters offline. Encourage such critics to contact you directly via email or by phone to have their questions answered. For this action to be effective, you have to make sure your response team is well informed about all aspects of the crisis.
Step 7: Learn from your mistakes
The worst fallout from a crisis sometimes involves a company not learning from the disaster that has occurred. It is critical to document all activity during the crisis, to then deconstruct what happened and how you responded, and finally to honestly evaluate your actions after the emotion has subsided.
When doing your self-evaluation, ask yourself these important questions and rate your crisis management from 0–10 (with 0 being the worst score and 10 being the best):
- How well did your escalation plan work?
- How well informed were customers?
- How well informed were internal staff?
- How well did online activity integrate with offline activity?
- How well did you handle the response?
Hopefully you won’t ever need to use a crisis plan as outlined above, but it’s best to have one in place should the worst happen. And if an emergency should arise, just remind yourself that every crisis has an end point.
The content calendar
Returning to the main focus of this chapter – the never-ending campaign – you’ll need to develop a content calendar to frame your ongoing campaign activity. A content calendar not only ensures that your messaging is consistent, but also that you are effectively focusing your time and resources rather than being sidetracked by unproductive activity that may not deliver on your objectives and goals.
There are four steps you need to take to create a reliable content calendar.
Step 1: Organise your framework and content marketing themes
According to a recent study by Skyword, Content Marketing Gets Social, only 46% of marketers have a formal content marketing strategy. The important first step is to collate your plan, themes and desired content areas into a framework which will form an editorial calendar.
This can be as simple as using a spreadsheet with weekly, monthly and quarterly sections, or you may decide to use more collaborative enterprise tools such as Google Docs.
In your marketing plan, you will have identified key periods of product and promotional activity throughout the year, such as launches, promotional events and seasonal sales periods.
This will form the initial structure of your content marketing plan. However, you will need to reassess all this activity from a customer’s point of view to define your content marketing activity.
Doing some brainstorming from the customer’s perspective will help you identify the key life cycles and need-states to focus on, which in turn will highlight the different levels of content that need to be created within your calendar.
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