Social Strategy For Scandal: Lessons From Volkswagen

By: Sofie De Beule

October 6, 2015

These are tough days for Volkswagen. The falsified emissions scandal has the automaker facing a possible $18 billion in fines from the EPA, with stock prices tumbling more than 30%. New details are creating headlines daily in every kind of global news media.

It’s no surprise that this is also a hot topic on social media. Using our platform, we have followed the online conversation about the emissions issue and Volkswagen’s brand to gauge public reaction and Volkswagen’s response.

What we’ve learned can teach us a lot about the critical elements of effective social strategy when crisis hits your business.

1. Have a Clear Social Media Engagement or Crisis Management Strategy.

On September 22, four full days after recalls were announced, Volkswagen published a tweet directing people to an online apology video by Volkswagen’s recently resigned CEO, Martin Winterkorn. This was the only official statement published on their social media accounts.

The day that Volkswagen issued the apology video, 72.5% of all messages on social media talking about Volkswagen were negative. The delayed, limited response clearly contributed to the negative sentiment, as people directing messages to the company’s official Twitter account had not received any replies. When it comes to social media crisis management, you must be ready to reply quickly and sincerely. Even before formulating an official corporate response, you must empower your social team to reply and show empathy to angry and upset consumers.

2. Reply Using Customers’ Preferred Channels.

As mentioned above, in the heat of the crisis there was almost zero social engagement on Volkswagen’s end. The only response was the apology video, but that wasn’t necessarily the channel that was going to make the biggest impact. Hashtags including #BuyBackMyTDI, #VWGate, and #VWCares have sprung up on Twitter, allowing car owners to express their frustration and disappointment. Because so much of the backlash has come through Twitter, it would have been a wise strategic decision to reach out to customers individually on that platform. Ignoring angry Tweeters never makes them go away.

3. Be Consistent.

Unlike the more general, global Volkswagen Twitter account, the US Volkswagen Twitter account has been actively replying to people who have reached out.

While that is encouraging, in the end every customer should receive the same level of service, no matter which channel they use to reach out to you. While that can be challenging for a global brand, it is something that will go a long way toward managing a crisis.

It’s too soon to know what impact this issue will have on Volkswagen’s business, but it does give major brands a good look into how they should handle crisis communication over social channels. Be proactive, consistent, and sensitive to your customers’ concerns – best practices every day, not just during times of crisis.

This article originally appeared on CMO Essentials.