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Tweeting Can Avert PR Mess

Posted on 04 Aug 09

In our May issue we discussed with Rick Morgan in our “Face Time” column the use of social media to communicate to clients and prospective clients, including averting a potential PR mess. We cited how Ford Motor Company avoided a potentially embarrassing public relations snafu through the quick use of new media channels, including Twitter. Here we are featuring how a number of other businesses are tracking social-media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter to gauge consumer sentiment and avert potential public-relations problems.

PepsiCo intensified its social-media efforts last November after employees saw critical Twitter posts about an ad in a German trade magazine for a diet cola, which depicted a calorie killing itself. A popular commentator, whose sister had committed suicide, asked, "How could Pepsi do this?"

A Pepsi spokesman quickly posted an apology on his personal Twitter page. So did Bonin Bough, who is Pepsi's global director of digital and social media. Mr. Bough, who was hired for the job in September, says the incident prompted Pepsi to create a corporate Twitter profile; in May it launched The Juice, part of the networking site

Monitoring a corporate image in cyberspace is a daunting task, even with technological help. Tracking software can identify hundreds of posts daily, and managers must decide which could prove troublesome. "If you start seeing a lot of people retweeting it, then you know" to pay attention, says Marcus Schmidt, a senior marketing manager for Microsoft Corp.

Some companies use the information to shape responses to news. On July 13, a Southwest Airlines flight from Nashville to Baltimore made an emergency landing in Charleston, W.Va. Southwest's six-person "emerging-media team" scanned Twitter, Facebook and other websites for passengers' reactions -- and found mostly positive comments. The Southwest employees quickly posted Tweets praising the "great work by crew and customers onboard."

Linda Rutherford, Southwest's vice president, communications and strategic outreach, says she might have reacted differently if passengers had been more critical. "We would still be complimentary of our crews, but we might not emphasize that as much," says Ms. Rutherford, who added responsibility for social-media initiatives last summer.

Some companies are training staffers to broaden their social-media efforts. At Ford, head of social media Scott Monty plans to soon begin teaching employees how to use sites like Twitter to represent the company and interact with consumers.

Coca-Cola Co. is preparing a similar effort, which initially will be limited to marketing, public affairs and legal staffers. Participants will be authorized to post to social media on Coke's behalf without checking with the company's PR staff, says Adam Brown, named Coke's first head of social media in March.

For now, that job falls to Mr. Brown and three staffers. Last fall, Coke's software spotted a Twitter post from a frustrated consumer who couldn't redeem a prize from the MyCoke rewards program. The consumer's profile boasted more than 10,000 followers.

Mr. Brown quickly posted an apology on the consumer's Twitter profile and offered to help resolve the situation. The consumer got his prize and later changed his Twitter avatar to a photo of himself holding a Coke bottle.

"We're getting to a point if you're not responding, you're not being seen as an authentic type of brand," says Mr. Brown.

Source for Article: WSJ