5 ways to handle a social media crisis for marketing managers - A case study of Samsung

Written by Anna Hanllner

Handling a social media crisis is a challenge and a confusing task for marketing managers as negative word-of-mouth is going viral and is uncontrollable. In crisis and tragedy, consumers’ go to social media, so here is 5 ways how to make sure your brand take appropriate actions to their complaints so you as a manager can breathe out. The rules how to manage a company crisis have change due to the Web 2.0 and the consumers’ empowerment on social media (Berthon et al, 2012)

Currently, the electronic company Samsung are simultaneously experiencing a product-harm crisis and a social media crisis. They needed to recall the Samsung smartphone Note 7 as multiple of the batteries exploded. The consumers reacted differently and after a time, several created parodies of the situation that went viral. One parody that got huge reactions and contributed to the social media crisis was a YouTube clip of a computer game. The action hero uses the smartphone Note 7 as a bomb and he destroys cars and kills people. This can damage the brands reputation, so Samsung decided to use their legal right and forced YouTube to remove it (BBC News, 2016)

Figure 1. Parody video (BBC News, 2016)

Figure 1. Parody video (BBC News, 2016)

After analysing Samsung, the best ways to handle a social media crisis depends on the different levels of complaints. The worst-case scenario is the creations of parodies that hurt the brands reputation. However, there are several levels of complaints brands have to pass through before this occurs. Below are guidelines for the different complaints and recommendations to avoid further damage (Grégoire et al, 2014).

1.     Direct complaints to the company

Recommendation: acknowledge the problems and offer service.

2.     Badmouthing complaints to other people but not the company

Recommendation: contact the persons publicly and acknowledge the issue, offer a private discussion and further service.

3.     Tattling - failed service and recovery, third-parties get involved

Recommendation: It is harder to compensate. Take the discussion with the consumers and the other organisation and try to solve it. 

4.     Spite complaints such as YouTube clips

Recommendation: the second worst-scenario and a social media crisis. Do not take it away as it may lead to further publicity.

5.     Feeding the vultures –the competitors take advantage

Recommendation: the worst scenario. Try to take back control by arranging a humorous contest for the consumers to regain trust, brand reputation and positive publicity.

This study aims to investigate how well Samsung is managing the social media crisis and to find appropriate responses to other companies in similar situations.

Limited literature exists for responding to a brand-attack after a product-harm crisis in a social media context. Therefore, I will use the existing social media- and brand crisis research in order to answer my research question. (Gensler et al, 2013).

A changing world - consumers’ empowerment

The lines are nowadays blurred between the terms Web 2.0, social media and creative consumers. People are using them interchangeably as they are related to each other. The development of the Web 2.0 technology contributed to three effects. Firstly, the focus was transferred from the desktop to the web. Secondly, it was a change of the value production from the company to consumers and lastly a power shift from the company to the consumers. Social media enables billions of users to stay connected to each other. As a consequence, social media contributed to consumers’ empowerment and they nowadays have the ability to create and share their content (Berthon et al, 2012; Christodoulides, 2011).

Web 2.0 enabled a two-way communication between the brand and the consumers. The brands saw this as an opportunity to listen, interact and create relationships with the consumers and to improve their brand reputation. A paradox started to appear in the social media context, as things did not work out according to the manager’s expectations. They lost control over the spread of their content (Fournier & Avery, 2011).

Fournier & Avery (2011) claims that the brands actually are the party crashers. The social media was created for the consumers and to simplify their interaction and not for companies to sell products. Therefore, the brands were mostly ignored on social media and the consumers who did visit the companies social media page wanted either a cheaper price or to complain. Recently, a new challenge has emerged for managers due to the consumers’ empowerment. Many consumers have started to attack brands together, whereas the new concept collaborative brand attacks, as they are sharing and creating content on social media collaboratively. The consumers’ purpose is to either damage the brands reputation or change their behaviour (Rauschnabel et al, 2016). Unfortunately, it is hard to stop the negative word-of-mouth, as the consumers continue to share and comment on each other´s brand stories (Christodoulides, 2011).

Proper actions on a social media crisis

As mentioned above, many consumers post their complaints on social media in order to show their irritation or to revenge. If the company does not respond properly this can lead to a social media crisis. As a matter of fact, consumers appreciate a company response to their complaint. If a company remains silence, 88 % of the consumers would not likely buy the product again (Grégoire et al, 2014).

Prior research within product-harm crisis shows that messages from the company should be informative due to its negative information. In addition, there is a high amount of consumers that get affected (Gensler et al, 2013). Brand crisis can be very dangerous for the brands reputation. When a company is facing a crisis, it is important to communicate the service failure quickly and to choose appropriate responses’ (Wang, 2016). As Samsung had a product-harm crisis they used an apology strategy as they took all the responsibility for the service failure and made an apology to the consumers (Thomas et al, 2012). Samsung’s CEO from the United States communicated the apology through an emotional video and he addressed how sorry they were and the importance of customer safety (Samsung COO Tim Baxter Note7 Apology, 2016). This was an important move for Samsung’s future brand reputation (Thomas et al, 2012).

There are 5 different levels of complaints on social media and therefore are 5 responses presented below as a case study of Samsung (Grégoire et al, 2014).  

1.     Directness

This type of complaint refers to a service failure and the consumers are complaining directly to the company on social media in order to get compensated. Moreover, this is the first stage of complaint and there is no danger to the brands reputation yet. The accurate response is to acknowledge the issue and offer service on the post publicly. If the company deliver a proper response and recovery it may lead to boasting and the consumer might share the positive response on social media (Grégoire et al, 2014).

In the case of Samsung, the company communicated the service failure on the social media platforms. They received complaints from the consumers and replied to the majority. In addition, they created a compensation program in form of new phones, refund or offered another Samsung phone (Samsung, 2016). Despite this, Samsung recalled the products too late. At the beginning they were not informative enough as they did not explain properly why they recalled the smartphones. In addition, they changed the safety information several times how to handle the smartphone (Maheshwari, 2016). This is not an appropriate response due to the importance to act quickly. In that way, it is harder for them to stay authentic or transparent and to avoid a social media crisis (Wang, 2015; Thomas et al, 2012).

2.     Badmouthing

This refers to negative word-of-mouth complaints that the consumers share on their social media without contacting the firm. Moreover, this type of complaint can damage the brands reputation as it reaches in further extent potential consumers. The recommendation is to acknowledge the problem directly to the persons publicly on social media and offer him/her a private discussion (Grégoire et al, 2014). This is harder to apply in the case of Samsung because of the brand crisis and the larger amount of consumers that was affected. In that way, Samsung received more complaints, which made it harder to acknowledge everyone.

3.     Tattling

In this level of complaint, the company did not manage to perform a proper recovery after the service failure. As a consequence, some consumers may not accept the next apology and contact third-party organisations. This is an example on consumers’ empowerment position. As a recommendation, the company should still try to compensate to the consumers and communicate with the third-part organisation. This is better compared to the situation where the consumers are seeking revenge (Grégoire et al, 2014). Many of Samsung’s consumers who received a different smartphone experienced the same problem with the replacement, which reduces the trust and increased the irritation and complaints (Spence, 2016).

4.     Spite

This is one of the worst levels of complaints because the consumers requires revenge and want to hurt the brands reputation. To be able to reach as many as possible, they are creating funny or clever content videos, which might be devastated for the brand if they get lots of attention. In this stage, it is not much a company can do as they are in the middle of the social media crisis. Even if they manage a proper recover after these complaints, it is often too late and the consumers might not accept the compensation (Fournier & Avery, 2012). It is impossible to control a viral complaint. Therefore, the best strategy is to avoid these by monitor the social media closely (Grégoire et al, 2014).

The most appropriate response when the brand is in the middle of the social media crisis is to control the damage and respond. Firstly, they need to privately contact the disappointed consumers and if they come up with an agreement spread the message online (Grégoire et al, 2014).

Samsung used a censorship strategy as they forced YouTube to delete the clip, which is not an appropriate way to show authenticity and transparency (Thomas et al, 2012). As a consequence, Samsung received more bad publicity through a third-part organisation (tattling) from the news channel BBC and the owner of the clip displayed his complaint in the article. Moreover, Samsung’s CEO did not wanted to comment the event (BBC News, 2016).

5.     Feeding the vultures

In the worst-case scenario, the affected brands competitors’ exploit the unfortunate situation for their own benefit. The recommendation in this stage is trying to take back control. This could be done by arranging a contest based on humour to attract consumers and improve the brands reputation (Grégoire et al, 2014). Apple is Samsung’s biggest competitor and the product-harm crisis took place one week before Apple presented their new phone. Samsung should take consideration of that Apple is waiting for their customers with great pleasure (Spence, 2016).

To summarize, there are 5 levels of complaints and 5 appropriate responses to these.

Samsung’s responses on social media are difficult to investigate, as they are both responding to a product-harm- and a social media crisis. Overall, Samsung could manage the crisis better by communicating an informative message from the start, provide a better recovery, the CEO should have made a statement when the new channel BBC contacted him and they should not have deleted the YouTube clip. They took responsibility, apologized and responded to the majority of the consumers on social media and offers recover for the failure, which is positive. Unfortunately, many consumers are affected which makes it is harder to provide service. Therefore, the complaint process between levels occurs faster and more aggressive.

As mentioned above, there are limits of previous research in handling a product-harm crisis in a social media context (Gensler et al, 2013). For further research, it would be interesting to explore a bigger case study and develop further adjustable responses on a social media crisis for companies in a similar situation.


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