Module 11: Compassion and Sincerity in Managing a Crisis


I decided to focus on GM’s recall announcements for this week’s blog. General Motors issued an ignition switch recall recently in the midst of facing three separate recalls involving US production and sales of cars linked to 12 deaths (click here to read story). The recall was later extended to include Canadian customers (click here to read story).

CEO Mary Barra has requested an internal safety review following the recall and issued a message to the public through YouTube. Barra is putting herself forward as the CEO and the face of the company.

GM has a team of 20 people working seven days a week to manage their social media presence including monitoring and responding to inquiries and concerns or complaints – they’ve upped this to 50 during the recall.

GM is proactively addressing its operational crisis by utilizing social media (Hashtag #GMrecall) to reach a broader audience through the internet, blogs, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Customer service reps are addressing customer complaints offline but negative comments online could still impact brand sentiment.

GM social media

Online discussions (those supporting Barra and those criticizing GMs response) illustrate how difficult it is to manage social media because one negative comment can spiral into more and more. A Facebook page called GM Recall Survivors, shares less than positive GM customer stories.

Despite these public customer complaints an analysis from Crimson Hexagon, a social media analytics firm in Boston, found about 26 percent of Twitter messages mentioning GM were positive, 71 percent were neutral and 3 percent were negative. This data suggests that GMs broader online reputation has been barely impacted.

The danger of addressing a crisis on social media is the lack of control over feedback however with a targeted and focused approach you can minimize negative impressions. Social media has allowed GM to show its commitment to resolving customer concerns and continue to build enthusiasm among their customers.

What would I do differently?
If I were in charge of GM’s crisis communications I would focus on improving dealer communications as most of the negative comments are related to a lack of inventory for repairs and poor customer service from local dealers. I would utilize internal social media sites to promote awareness and engagement amongst employees across the country to ensure consistent messaging and improve staff morale. I would also utilize public social media platforms to drive concerned customers to visit the company website for information on the steps they should take related to the recall announcements (I found a link to a story on GM’s New Customer Engagement Center Assisting in Ignition Switch Recall Efforts on their LinkedIn site halfway down the page).

I would post safety tips from subject matter experts (cleared by legal) for drivers. Note: When I visited GM’s homepage I didn’t see any information related to the recall notices and when I clicked on the ‘Find a Dealer’ link it was broken. I would ensure a message with information to contact your local dealer was posted on the home page with links from social media sites and I would check that all links were working!

GMs YouTube video was a little long and some online critics felt Barra’s delivery could be more sincere. I too would encourage the CEO to deliver a video message with a heartfelt apology. The key to remember is accepting responsibility is not the same as accepting liability. Sharing a personal message with customers will reassure them of the company’s commitment to investigate the crisis and to put steps in place to improve the process. After all, your customers’ perceptions of the brand are shaped by the CEO and the company’s messaging and approach. I would record short, plain language follow-up messages to talk about what GM is doing and share some actions to demonstrate their commitment and accountability to make real changes.

Lastly, I would improve customer service in response to online comments, questions and concerns. GM needs to be consistent in a timely and empathetic response to customers online and off. A disgruntled GM customer in remote Alaska turned to Twitter after trying to resolve her recall issue in a one hour phone call. As a result of her public tweet GM agreed to cover the cost of a round-trip ferry to ship the customer’s car to the nearest dealership for repair. As a result of GM stepping up the customer posted a public thank you. This would be a great opportunity to create a short video demonstrating how GM is responding to customers.

Being open, transparent and listening to customers would allow me to maintain a positive online reputation in a social media crisis.


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