by Dan Ward
Philadelphia PR pro Ken Kilpatrick grabbed my attention with his Bizjournals headline, “How Target screwed up on social media.” But after I read his column, my first thought was that this must be a poorly executed attempt at satire. No one could miss the target (pun intended) this badly, could they?
Let’s start with his snarky take on Target’s offer of a 10 percent discount in the wake of its massive security breach. “The message: ‘We goofed, so here’s a small token to get you to mosey on down to make us even more profitable.’”
Gee, Ken, that might have been the message you heard, but it’s not the message I got from the people who work at Target. When I went through the checkout line, what I heard was “we’re sorry, and we thank you for continuing to shop with us.” I suppose we can agree to disagree, but to this long-time Target shopper, the discount you saw as “superficial,” “self-serving” and “pretentious” sent a message of apology … a critical step when an organization screws up.
Did Target do everything correctly? No. While it posted good information on Facebook, Twitter, and the company blog, Target could have focused more on engagement with its customers to address their questions, while staffing up its customer service more quickly to deal with call and email volume. But Ken’s strategy (“manage the situation the old-fashioned way through press briefings and one-on-one interviews with select reporters”) is awfully short-sighted.
In times of crisis, organizations need to have communications strategies, not just media strategies. Customers want (expect, demand) to hear directly from you, and are unwilling to wait for your interview on 60 Minutes. In Target’s case, the company took to social media to share what happened, what Target was doing to fix the problem, and what customers could do to protect themselves. After having built a huge social media audience over several years, ignoring this audience to take its message to “select reporters” would have been exactly the wrong thing to do.
We counsel clients to have crisis communications plans in place long before crises hit. You need to identify all of the audiences with which you’ll need to communicate in a time of crisis … employees, customers, vendors, regulators, and yes, media. And you need to take your message directly to those audiences, not relying on media alone to tell your story completely and accurately. They call it “targeted communications” for a reason.