As you may know, in a past life I spent several years working as a journalist, catching the bug when I was a student at university in Ireland, before moving to the UK where I worked for several local newspapers. Back then, in order to become a journalist you would have to spend years working your way up the career ladder, starting out at a local newspaper before getting a job at one of the national newspapers.
This all changed with the advent of the smart phone. Today if you carry a phone you’re a journalist, with the ability to record and upload video and pictures in real time from almost anywhere on the globe, and this has had a dramatic impact on crisis management.
Last month, parents in the United States started noticing tiny pieces of a sparkling material attached to their children’s Huggies wet wipes. Convinced that what she was seeing was in fact tiny particles of glass, one mother filmed a video of the wipes and uploaded it to Facebook. Within days the video had received millions of hits, and messages from worried parents, concerned that they were wiping shards of glass against their babies.
For its part, Huggies responded very well to the video, posting a message to Facebook addressing the problem, and responding, where it could, to individual messages. The company also updated its FAQ page of its website directly addressing the problem, and providing a number for people to call.
It transpired that what people thought was glass was in fact tiny fibres which had formed as part of the manufacturing process, and these were both normal and completely safe for babies.
In this instance Huggies responded quickly, and shut down the crisis before it had the chance to escalate. The company chose to respond to the original post directly, doing so on the platform on which the video had been shared.
The potential crisis was averted, but not before millions of Huggies customers had hesitated as to whether to stop using the products. The power of suggestion and the law of averages also dictates that some people will still go on believing that the wet wipes do in fact contain glass, and will stop using the products.
In the past, and issue like this would have taken much more effort to gain attention. The parents in question would have had to contact an interested journalist, who in turn would have had to pitch the story to their editors. Today, this process of ‘quality control’ has been bypassed, with members of the public deciding what and what not to publish for the world.
Companies need to be prepared for this new reality, and be able to respond swiftly and directly. Huggies did well, because they were prepared to react, and averted what could have been a major reputational crisis. Now that everyone’s a journalist you never know where the next news story might come from.