Even good intentions can lead to a Spanish Inquisition. You can’t expect that – but you should always be prepared.

Target’s latest social media crisis is a just a good example of how doing the right thing can lead to a massive headache.

The company did everything right. A single customer posted a complaint addressing a gender bias at the toy section. The company listened and decided to make some changes. It removed gender labeling over many aisles in its stores. Sounds like the right thing to do, doesn’t it?

Well, apparently not everyone liked it. In fact, there was a group of people who were raging by this move.

Christian evangelist Franklin Graham posted some tweets that quickly went viral. A #OffTarget hashtag was set and the campaign against the move erupted. 

We’ve set some monitors to track the conversation around the OffTarget campaign. Soon enough there were more than 3,000 mentions of the keyword, mainly for Texas, Tennessee and North Carolina.

The main audience in these conversations had affinity to Conservative, Christianity or Constitutional interests.

Theses insights can later on serve the company’s future marketing efforts to change the sentiment around it to a more positive one.

Social Media Crisis Routine

Social media has its bless for brands but from time to time a crisis might happen.

When such event erupts and the brand’s reputation is at risk it is useful to follow these steps:

1. Listen to your audience

First, make sure to track ongoing mentions around the brand. Set monitors to track real-time conversations so that you are always aware of what is being said about your brand’s social assets. It’s not only essential for social media crisis management, but also for amplifying positive mentions at more relaxed times.

2. Be notified at peaks

In times of crisis data would show a spike in conversations mentioning your social assets. When that happens you want to be notified immediately so that you are on top of the situation and can act quickly to resolve. Email notifications for spike times might be life saving.

3. Engage 

Respond, react, engage. Getting into the conversation can help change it quickly. It might soothe the anger and let your side be heard.

4. Be transparent

Reflect the situation and be informative about the problem. It’s ok to make a mistake. The right thing to do is take responsibility for it. Be transparent and serve your clients with information. Who knows, it might raise some empathy for your side after all.

5. Aftermath action

Analyze social media interactions around the crisis to better understand what further actions you need to take. You can use that data to try and figure out where and who in your audience and customers might need further attention and act on that.

A Hero to the Rescue

Following these steps shows full commitment to your customers. But sometimes you just get lucky.

In Target’s case a friendly troll came to the rescue.

Facebook user Mike Melgaard created a fake account by the name of “Ask ForHelp” with Target’s logo as a profile picture. He responded to the angry customers with witty and snarky comments. The customers failed to understand that Melgaard wasn’t really Target’s customer service.

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Melgaard drew a lot of attention with his fake account and soon Target needed to handle a new mini-crisis: “Clearly this individual was not speaking on behalf of Target”, stated the company.

Later on, Target secretly thanked Melgaard. We’ll get to that.

Target’s Experience with Social Media Crisis

Target is a veteran of a social media crisis. Two years ago it faced a data leak which forced it to handle the situation with the most caring customer service. Back then, 40 million credit and debit cards were stolen and caused a reputation damage that was not easily restored.

Lately the company agreed to reimburse customers with up to $67 million over that 2013 data breach. 

 “Don’t let a crisis force you to take stock of your brand assets”, said Jeff Jones, Target’s CMO. Target made the data breach crisis an opportunity. They presented transparency and care for their customers. It offered solutions for the problem over social media and stores. It made customers trust it again and be not just part of the problem, but also part of the solution.

Crisis: Handle With Care

Being transparent is highly valued, especially in times of crisis.

The conversation around a brand in is harsh. But monitoring the conversation and being proactive about it can leverage the problem for the benefit of the company.

For Target it worked before with the data leak and unintentionally during the latest crisis. When that happened, the company knew how to secretly thank Melgaard without encouraging others to repeat it again.

Being thankful for the crisis to be over is also something that can be cheerfully shared with the audience. 

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