Paperchase recently found themselves where no brand wants to be – at the heart of a Twitterstorm. Social media users were quick to express their dismay when the company placed a promotion in the Daily Mail. Paperchase soon withdrew the promotion, apologising and announcing they wouldn’t do it again. But, as is often the way, this led to another camp accusing Paperchase of ‘giving in to the Twitter mob’.

Question: could a branded online community have helped?

A dedicated, distraction-free platform

Communities can definitely help in a crisis. First of all, on a dedicated platform, brands have members’ undivided attention.  On Facebook or Twitter there are friends, family and countless other brands vying for users’ attention. With a dedicated platform, an attentive public, and nothing else but your brand, in crisis situations you have the perfect place to discuss issues with your customers.

Paperchase certainly had people sharing their views. But the difficulty with public social media is that it’s hard to verify whether feedback comes from genuine brand-engaged customers, or simply from those who have weighed in with their opinion. With their own community, Paperchase could have tackled this problem head on, while proving beyond doubt (with statistics and data) that those expressing concern were representative of their brand.

A place to inform the disgruntled

Another benefit of a branded community is that it provides a place for people on public social media to access a brand. In this situation, Paperchase could have explained their intentions, decision-making process and what they intended to do about the problem with much greater ease than on character-limited Twitter.

Not only this, but your community also offers ongoing discussion, in real time.  When something goes wrong with a product or service, brands can explore the issue with greater nuance, and in more depth., The very presence of a community hub would have no doubt demonstrated Paperchase’s openness to discussion, quelling any doubts that they were only dealing with the situation because it went viral.

Get customers to defend your brand

If I’ve learned anything from working in online communities, it’s that an informed and engaged membership base is often willing to go out of its way to dispel misinformation among the general public. Having customers defend your brand like this is miles more effective than releasing a one-sided statement from some unseen company executive. You can’t buy this kind of love!

This is one of the most overlooked powers of communities, probably because it is harder to measure ‘brand loyalty in a crisis’ than, say, the benefits of ‘reduced call numbers’.  However, by fostering discussion, brands take a step up and show that they care what customers think. It’s hard to win when you’re fighting the fire alone, but with a community behind you, you’ve got a better chance – they will defend you effectively when it counts.

Paperchase did the right thing by listening to their customers. But having their own community would have certainly made the Twitterstorm easier to manage. It would have also tackled criticism that they only withdrew their promotion to ‘please the mob’. As Paperchase themselves said – a valuable lesson learned. And if they need any help next time… they know who to call!

 

Vincent Boon

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vincent Boon

Vincent Boon

Founder

Vincent is Standing on Giants in-house community guru, futurist and troubleshooter. The source of our methodology he’s a fiery advocate for genuine customer-centric business.