A Crises Perfect Storm: Millennials, Social Media & Technology

While organizations are not always able to avoid crises, preparation is imperative.  Companies have issues from time to time. Whether situations are caused by food contamination, disease, human error or natural disasters, crises are unavoidable in most businesses.  What’s important is to be able to differentiate an issue from a crisis- not always easy when Millennials are involved.

Highly coveted by marketers, Millennials not only have significant spending power—over $200 billion expected each year—but are also technologically savvy and continuously connected through social media. More than 75 percent have profiles and more than 85 percent own mobile devices. They expect to get the information they need quickly and can have it at the click of a button. They are the most connected generation, yet they are very difficult to connect with.

Having said that, Millennials are a “cause driven” generation and connect to businesses and organizations through social responsibility initiatives. They identify with brands that care, meaning that a company’s values and mission is a key driver of not only their purchase decisions, but also their advocacy. They appreciate a company’s transparency, but demand social responsibility; so when there is a controversial issue, they are likely to be vocal critics engaging their social communities to express their opinion, analysis or outrage.

The biggest nightmare is the distribution of videos and photographs; these can quickly magnify any situation, transcending languages and cultures on social media. Good visuals and a strong issue will go viral, especially within a company’s communications vacuum, leading us back to preparation. Sprinkle a controversial photo or incendiary video and the crisis blooms.

Millennials & Social Media

Millenials and Social Media

The lines separating digital, mobile and the real world have blurred.  Considering that crises develop quickly– fueled by technology, social media and the nature of Millennials– an understanding and appreciation for this complicated group, plus having a comprehensive and CURRENT crisis plan can do wonders for mitigating or managing a crisis.

A key element to crisis management is having a team with a designated spokesperson, who is trained to explain the situation and the company’s position in order to respond appropriately with similar tone and channel, is indispensable to any organization.

For example, given today’s heightened interest in the responsible sourcing of supply chains issues involving possible poor labor conditions have the potential to generate strong emotional reaction from Millennials. Such reaction is easily shared through social media, which has a significant impact during a crisis due to the increased immediacy, inaccuracy, reach, repetition, disclosure and permanence—digital information lives forever.

Furthermore, companies should respond in the channel where the problem began and should use the same tone, meaning that emotional outrage should be countered with “passion points”. In addition to recognizing where the crisis is playing out, who the key stakeholders and audiences are, successful crisis management rests on communication that is strategic, clear and integrated.

Combining a comprehensive crisis contingency plan with a strategic communications program and transparent corporate responsibility campaign can create a platform where companies can positively engage with Millennials. Here, social media and technology become allies in supporting the company’s values and mission, while at the same time providing a vehicle to spark Millennials consumer spending.

Posted by Karen Guggenheim

Karen Guggenheim is a Director in our Miami office. She is also a member of Burson-Marsteller’s Senior Crisis Management Team.

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