At 4:05 pm EST on Saturday afternoon, Kyle Larson crashed during the Daytona 500 and pieces of his car flew into the stands injuring thirty. News of the event immediately went viral as social networks turned into a flurry of activity with fan reactions.
At 4:54 pm EST across their social channels, NASCAR put out the message: “'Our prayers and thoughts are with everybody they [the responders] are working on” before ceasing to post for the remainder of the day.
As fans attend events enabled (and eagerly willing) to document the good, the bad, and the ugly as it unfolds, a new and challenging problem has arisen for companies as they deal in the aftermath of these events. Through evaluating the social media responses that different companies have taken as disaster unfolds, we have found four tactics that separate an affective social media response from those that compound the problem.
Given the immediacy with which news circulates through social networks, there is no way for the company involved to get ahead of the story as it spreads throughout Twitter and Facebook. It is important however, to respond as swiftly as possible to quell the demand for a statement and responsibility. NASCAR was able to get a message posted within the hour, surprisingly fast given the stranglehold that lawyers and PR teams often create on immediate messaging in these scenarios.
The second piece of this is to make sure that the message doesn't sound overly canned. Social Media is about open and honest communication and an obviously pre-fabricated statement will be seen in negative light by the swarms of people propagating the story throughout social networks. Again, NASCAR did well here, putting out a statement that was received well on Facebook and Twitter given the circumstances.
NASCAR made another smart decision after posting once by remaining quiet for the remainder of the day on Facebook and Twitter. It is important for companies in these situations to make sure not to feed the social media fire. In other words, put out a statement and then quiet down. As social media professionals have told us a million times, social media is a multi-way conversation. When a company puts out a statement on Facebook or Twitter, people will respond in the comments, @mentions, retweets, and shares. A significant portion of these will be negative immediately after something like this happens. By posting multiple times, the company is turning their posts into a sounding board for criticism. Through creating one post immediately afterwards and then allowing conversation to ensue within that thread, lots of negative comments that may have been seen by many others will be avoided.
When it is time to open up the channels again, it is important that this is done in as tasteful of a way as possible. This is also one of the areas that can go painfully wrong if there are pre-populated posts that are set to automatically go out on the company's behalf. Just ask the NRA who accidentally Tweeted, “Good morning, shooters. Happy Friday. Weekend plans?” in the immediate aftermath of the Aurora, CO, movie theater shooting. A good rule of thumb is that when something like this is happening, all auto posting and third-party posting platforms should be immediately managed.
The last piece, and this is where NASCAR's strategy missed the mark, is to fully understand that when something like this happens in a very public space, it will get out online and trying to prevent that from happening will backfire. Shortly after the NASCAR crash, people in the stands uploaded footage to YouTube of the ensuing mayhem. NASCAR immediately got YouTube to take the content down citing copyright infringement. Judging by the Facebook comments and Tweets, this angered fans much more than the actual accident. Furthermore, it didn't do anything as the footage found its way back online almost immediately, and even YouTube reneged on its ban of the content which is now featured all over their site. It is important to understand that trying shut off footage that has already been leaked online is a losing strategy.
Given the seriousness of this incident and the immediate response NASCAR provided, we should give them high marks on how they handled this situation via social media on three out of four fronts.
Jason Mitchell is co-founder of Movement Strategy.