You can’t fix your PR problems with a #Hashtag!

I write regularly for the Firebrand Talent blog. Like what you read here? Head over to their website for more great reads!


This blog was first published on the Firebrand Talent blog on 12 November 2015.


When will PR strategists stop thinking the almighty hashtag is the silver bullet to their audience anti-sentiment solutions?

If you’re a proponent of the social-media-fixes-everything strategy let me lay it out for you: if your user base is hating on your brand online about their experience with your product or service, it’s probably because there is something WRONG with your brand’s product, service or their experience!

You can’t change the perceptions of your user base without first FIXING the issues that are at the core of their frustration.

Your reputation will not improve until your product or service is on par or exceeding that of your competitors no matter how much you sugar coat it, dress it up in infographics or claim— like the Victorian Taxi Association (VTA) – that’s it’s all Uber’s fault.

In launching the website recently with corresponding social media accounts the VTA are attempting to counter the narrative with their own stories and content. A savvy move in the influence stakes without doubt, but the issue is they aren’t addressing the elephant in the crisis communications: the perceived poor levels of service from the Taxi operators they represent.

VTA chief executive David Samuel denied the negative reaction was a “social media fail of epic proportions”. “This was never about selling something, this is about starting a direct conversation with everyone who uses Victorian taxis. This is what we have achieved,” he said in a statement. “The response online over the past 24 hours isn’t anything we didn’t expect. We asked for feedback and we got it. The good and the bad and everything in between. It also demonstrates the number of people that rely on taxi services and we want to make sure our service continues to meet customers’ expectations in a period of rapid change.”

Did you notice that last paragraph? “… make sure our service continues to meet customers’ expectations…”

If your customers’ expectations are low, then that’s a metric that is easily achieved. BUT if you aren’t acknowledging that you have service delivery issues that aren’t meeting your customers’ expectations, then you’re failing to listen to the feedback your customers are giving you.

Having a Twitter account, a website, a hashtag, and a community manager at the ready is one thing. Being able to actually take that dialogue and effect the industry change needed to positively influence people’s opinions is another entirely.

A little less conversation a little more action, please

Telling your own stories forms only part of the customer experience equation. Your customers’ experiences creates broader real world perceptions for your brand, and in starting an online dialogue you need to ensure that it remains a dialogue and is audience focused — that is, it’s not all about you. Ben Motteram, of Melbourne based customer experience consulting company CXpert, defines customer experience as how a customer feels about your brand based in every interaction they have with you, and says it is emerging as a key differentiator in competitive markets.

“Everything can be copied except the relationships you build with your customers. Its not enough to have a great product at a competitive price anymore. That’s just table stakes. Today, sustainable, long term success is built on great customer experience,” he said.

In the VTA vs. Uber war, there is a distinct difference in customer experience delivery, regardless of whether you’re riding in an Uber X or Yellow Cab. These disparate service delivery tangibles are very easily remedied, yet have not been. By not fixing the issues that have brought their industry to a prolonged crisis flashpoint, the VTA are simply breathing oxygen into an already flammable situation. Until they fix the issues that plague their industry the only PR winner will be Uber.

You don’t have to agree with your customer, but you do need to have a solution

By being open to having conversations that matter to your customers, you demonstrate that not only are you hearing what they are saying but that you also care about how they arefeeling.

If you don’t fix the issues that brought you to crisis point and take a combative stance against legitimate complaints, don’t be surprised when your customers take to social and online media en masse to vent their frustrations. Ignoring issues within your industry, and failing to see constructive customer feedback as early warning signs that something is amiss with your product or service model is short sighted at best, negligent at worst.

The key to success on social media (and business in general) is to create an ongoing, relatable, emotional connection. The same rings true during a crisis — what is it about you that the individual liked enough to do business with you in the first place? Get back to your core values and be authentic to your brand or watch a savvy competitor move in and do business — do customer experience — better than you, to your detriment.

Exemplary customer experience examples are everywhere from Apple to Zendesk — and if you aren’t watching what’s happening in your industry, learning and implementing… complaining about your competitors savvy social media approach won’t fix your issues.

If you think poor customer experience and crisis communications aren’t inextricably linked, let’s go back to that A-Z analogy and I’ll slot you in at Kodak.

#YourTaxis aren’t alone. Here are a few other misguided campaigns that went straight for the hashtag solution and landed in #crisiscomms instead:


What other hashtag disasters have you seen?