A Tale of Two Crises

What we can learn from the crisis management strategies of Facebook and Starbucks

Within the last month, two of the world’s largest and most well known consumer brands encountered major PR crises. While the Facebook and Starbucks crises are very different, brands can learn a lot by comparing the two brands’ responses and analyzing the online consumer conversations about them.

We’re not the first to think about what these two recent incidents can teach us about modern crisis management strategies. Forrester recently published an excellent blog post¹ comparing the responses and offering their own framework for how global brands should react. The post did a great job of laying out these guidelines, but we thought it would be helpful to use actual consumer conversations and social media data to help ground the principles in reality.

In their post, Forrester outlines four main components for brands to focus on when managing a crisis. In our post we will expand on those four points and offer real insights from the consumer conversations about Facebook’s and Starbucks’ response to their recent crises.  

Timing

Social media never sleeps, and brands no longer have the luxury to wait before issuing a statement on the crisis. Or, as Forrester says: “Make your communication and action swift and frequent.”

One of the biggest consumer complaints against Facebook was that the company knew about the Cambridge Analytica misuse of customer data way back in 2015, but didn’t fess up publicly until a whistleblower from Cambridge Analytica came forward this year.

Starbucks, on the other hand, responded very quickly to the incident of two black men being arrested at a store for simply waiting to meet someone before purchasing anything.

Both incidents spawned brand-bashing hashtags — #DeleteFacebook and #BoycottStartbucks — but did the brands’ distinct responses affect the impact of those consumer boycott campaigns?

We analyzed the volume related to both hashtags in the twelve days following each PR crisis to compare the consumer response. 

     

Starbucks’ fast response to the crisis likely helped the brand quell the calls for a boycott, leading to a faster decline in use of the #BoycottStarbucks hashtag compared to #DeleteFacebook.

Transparency

Forrester also stresses the importance of full transparency and honesty. In a world where information is shared freely across social media and video is so easily recorded and shared, brands shouldn’t try to keep issues quiet as the backlash will only be worse when the issue is brought to light. In Facebook’s case, the initial report changing from 50 million consumer’s data being implicated in the breach vs. the later report of 84 million indicated a lack of transparency in the eyes of consumers.

For Starbucks, the quick apology and decision to close stores for an upcoming diversity training has been praised as transparent about issues of racial sensitivity and the need to address them.

Action

Clearly laying out a plan of action to address consumer concerns is another crucial part of managing a brand crisis. Forrester points out that Facebook made quick changes to privacy settings and certain developer API in the name of increased security. But the company only informed consumers that they have made these types of changes in the past, and they still haven’t stopped privacy issues.

As we can see, both brands have recovered, but the recovery has been much quicker and steadier for Starbucks than for Facebook. More than a month in, Facebook is still making up ground in fits and starts. Starbucks, conversely, has nearly fully recovered to their (quite high) pre-crisis baseline of 70% positive consumer sentiment.

Empathy

Whenever a brand wants to connect with consumers, empathy is key: Understanding how consumers feel and specifically why they are upset. Analyzing the main discussion topics around the crisis can help brands understand how consumers are feeling and why, in order to make sure brand communication is empathetic to their concerns.  

For facebook, the issue of consumer data privacy is clearly the biggest issue and Facebook has a lot of work to do to regain user trust followed by how the data was potentially used in relation to the 2016 election.

For Starbucks, racism and discrimination are the major issues as highlighted in some of the most popular hashtags in the conversation, #BlackLivesMatter, #StarbucksWhileBlack, and #racism.

Looking specifically at the discussion topics, the act of the Starbucks employee calling the police seems to be the most discussed topic about incident, followed by discussion of the planned racial bias training.

Conclusion

Analysis of consumer conversation on social media can help brands find the best course of action and communication to ease the pain of a brand crisis. While brand perception will always take a hit, it will recover more quickly when brands listen to consumers’ concerns and provide a fast, transparent, empathetic response in addition to taking action.

For more on analyzing brand perception during a crisis, download our free guide: 5-minute Guide to Brand Analysis

¹Forrester blog: “Facebook Fumbles Its Own Brand Crisis”, Brigitte Majewski, Erna Alfred Liousas, Jessica Liu.

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