Successful Crisis Management = Planned and Integrated Communications Approach
In her books “Les Médias Sociaux 101” and “Les Médias Sociaux 201” (Social Media 101 and 102 respectively), en français), social media expert Michelle Blanc includes many cases studies that illustrate the dos’ and don’ts of public relations crisis management in a social media era.
One of them focuses on Maple Leaf Foods, a leading consumer packaged food company; headquartered in Toronto with operations across Canada and in the United States. In August 2008, deaths were linked to listeriosis from contaminated meat originating from a Maple Leaf Foods plant. The company reacted quickly and without hesitation.
Investigative reporter Abby Martin wrote a blog post that chronicles the steps taken by Maple Leaf Foods in response to the crisis (How They Handled This). She concludes with the following sobering comment:
However, ultimately, the company’s swift and thorough response will not be considered enough. Because their actions will be of small comfort to those who have been sickened or who have lost loved ones to this nasty bacterial outbreak.
For the most part, Ms. Blanc agrees with Ms. Martin’s assessment of Maple Leaf Foods’ operational execution from a traditional crisis management standpoint (newspapers, press release, web site updates) and that the company reacted swiftly to the situation.
However, Ms. Blanc carries her analysis a bit further and exposes where the company fell short on the digital and social media fronts. While Twitter and Facebook were not yet widely embraced by corporations in 2008, she argues that a corporate blog and digital media integration would have helped Maple Leaf Foods fair better in its operational response to the crisis.
Ms. Blanc points out that a regularly nurtured blog helps with search engine referencing and develops strong ties with key constituents. The company would have greatly benefited from a social media listening strategy (proactive reputation monitoring) and a corporate blog (to complement press release and regular updates). A response via a corporate blog is easily passed around and has some degree of permanence. However, you don’t want to create a blog just for the reply.
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Not only did Maple Leaf Foods suffer from poor search engine indexing, it failed to purchase key words such as “maple leaf” and “listeriosis”. As it turns out, these key words had been purchased by a law firm seeking support in a class action suit against the company. Consequently, at the height of the crisis, a web search on “maple leaf” and listerioisis” weren’t optimized to the company’s response in top search engine results. This is clearly not the type of social lessons that a company wants to learn in the midst of a crisis.
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