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Tori Zinger

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#bradswife: Why You Absolutely Need a Social Media Crisis Management Strategy

Earlier this year, Brad’s wife got fired from Cracker Barrel. You probably heard about it.

In case you’re one of the few who didn’t already know that Cracker Barrel terminated Brad's wife for apparently no good reason, here’s what happened:

Bradley Byrd’s wife (she has a name, by the way -- it’s Nanette) was a retail manager at her local Cracker Barrel in Indiana. She had worked there for eleven years, right up until this past March, when she got fired. We don’t know why she got fired. Neither did Bradley, her husband -- which is why he posted this simple query to Cracker Barrel’s corporate Facebook page: “Why did you fire my wife?” And lo, a social media firestorm was born. 

Fast-forward one week later: Cracker Barrel’s social media pages were pretty much hi-jacked by complete strangers demanding answers and justice for Nanette, who became widely known as  simply #bradswife (the other viral hashtag that arose from this situation: #justiceforbradswife). According to AdWeek, Cracker Barrel’s social media engagement increased by a whopping 226% after Bradley posted his question, and 90% of Cracker Barrel’s digital engagement between March 22 and March 27 was “Brad’s Wife-related.” Basically, the whole world was up in arms about Brad’s wife getting fired -- everyone, that is, except Cracker Barrel itself, which decided the proper course of action was not to so much as acknowledge that anything was amiss.

While we may not know what causes a single, seemingly insignificant social media post to become a global sensation, we can definitely take this as an opportunity to talk about some best practices on how to respond and bounce back in the event your dealership ever experiences something like this (it doesn't have to be global, either. Local disasters happen, too).

Acknowledge the situation.
Whether it’s a product issue, an employee misstep, or a seemingly insignificant post gone rogue, it is absolutely critical to acknowledge the situation immediately. In the case of #bradswife, Cracker Barrel showed us exactly what not to do. The company offered zero comment on the situation; in fact, it continued to update its social media sites with its normal marketing campaigns and advertisements, as if nothing ever happened. This, of course, made things exponentially worse. By ignoring the whole debacle, “Cracker Barrel [came] across as uncaring, unresponsive, and ridiculous, all at the same time. Consumers [we]re angry at a lack of any response or acknowledgement from the company, which result[ed] in even more outraged posts.”

Even if the problem at hand can’t be rectified or addressed right away, it’s important to at least acknowledge that the problem exists. When it came to #bradswife, Cracker Barrel failed to so much as comment that they refused to comment. By flagrantly continuing to post photos of new products and the like, Cracker Barrel gave a virtual middle finger to its customers and what may have been future customers, sending the message that it didn't care what they had to say.

Find the opportunity.
Imagine if Cracker Barrel had made amends with Nanette Byrd and brought her back onto their team. She becomes a celebrity of sorts, and all the supporters who sought #justiceforbradswife become brand ambassadors for the restaurant chain. With the right marketing team and strategy (and, of course, the initial problem having been properly addressed and rectified), it’s a golden opportunity for a whole lot of (free) positive publicity.

Develop a strategy.
Every brand should have a crisis management strategy in place from the get-go. It's kind of like having car insurance: hopefully you’ll never need it, but you don't want to be without it if the need arises. It’s a good idea to put together a "frontline social media team" -- a committee of a few people who are fully invested in the company and are authorized to speak on the dealership's behalf. Make sure those on the committee are empowered and well-informed, so that they can respond as effectively and as quickly as possible. Firebrand suggests starting with these questions as you build your social media crisis response strategy:

  • How can the frontline social media team reach the crisis team—especially if a situation arises after normal business hours?

  • Once the crisis team has been notified, who will craft the response?

  • Who has final approval?

  • Who will actually respond to the commenter?

Once you've taken this first step of forming the response team, consider investing in training for them. It doesn't have to be a massive undertaking -- an hour or two of training a few times a year can usually provide enough insight and skills to deal with a negative situation, should one arise. (If this type of publicity firestorm happens to your dealership on a regular basis, your team might need to do a little more than read this article and take a few hours of social media management training).

It doesn't have to be this way.
The bottom line is that what seems like a crisis initially doesn’t have to remain a crisis; it all depends on how your dealership responds to the situation. With a little preparation and a well-thought-out response strategy, you can turn a potential disaster into a business-driving asset (or, at the very least, stop it from poisoning your customer base and destroying your reputation and your brand).

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