As incredible as it may seem, if you lead a major brand and your communications-crisis or social-media management plans don’t have a section entitled, “The Leader of the Free World Just Called Out Our Brand on Twitter,” you’re ill-prepared for 2017 and beyond.
GM, Walmart and LL Bean have gotten a thumbs-up from President Trump on Twitter. Macy’s, Amazon and (not surprisingly) CNN and NBC Universal have earned his 140-character scorn. The free-wheeling, off-the-cuff communications approach is either refreshing or terrifying, depending on where your political allegiances fall, but it’s now a fact of life and will likely be a signature of his presidency, since social media gives him unfiltered access to his audience and was largely responsible for his winning the election.
That means your brand has to be prepared for a direct callout from the President of the United States, for good or ill.
So what’s a company to do?
1. Don’t treat this as any average criticism. For all the benefits social media has brought to brands in expanding audiences, allowing engagement and building communities, social outreach, particularly on Twitter, has also opened up the field to caustic and damaging attacks by disgruntled customers, competitors and garden-variety trolls. Most companies have strategies to deal with all of the above. Yet, those strategies won’t work with the President of the United States. From a dispassionate, apolitical point of view, you, as a brand, need to respect the office and make that the starting point of any response plan.
2. Remember it’s a crisis either way. Smart communications strategists see the dangers in both praise and criticism from any political figure. Politics tends to polarize. There are winners and losers in every election. A corporate Twitter account could simply “like” a praising tweet. Or a company could wrap itself proudly in the flag of criticism from a politician its executives oppose. Either approach runs the risk of alienating roughly half the electorate – meaning a company could turn off a wide swath of customers. Practicing a prudent neutrality that makes Switzerland seem partisan is the preferred strategy. And this has to be part of your overall crisis plan.
3. Manage the media off Twitter. There’s a nice predictable pattern that’s happening now. The President tweets. About a million people on Twitter respond. And then the media begins breathless coverage of each word. Your response to a presidential tweet cannot live on Twitter alone because the tweeting triggers this third-party media response. That means ensuring that you are doing active media and blog outreach to temper and manage the press. You need to be fast, definitive and aggressive with the media. The good news is that the president will surely tweet again in very short order, hopefully changing the media cycle. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
4. Be prepared for more from other leaders. President Trump hasn’t necessarily tweeted more than other leaders. The difference has been in the content. Presidents and business leaders have been more guarded in what they say on social media. One wonders whether they even know the passwords to their own accounts. Trump’s approach is more aggressive, something rare in politics and business, with the exception of folks like T-Mobile’s outspoken CEO John Legere. Love it or hate it, President Trump’s tweeting is forging a new path of unfiltered thinking from leaders, and that puts more brands at risk for mention from more public figures wanting to follow President Trump’s lead. (Saints preserve us if Pope Francis starts using @Pontifex to live-tweet The Young Pope.) One way or the other, you have to be prepared.