There’s crisis control, and then there’s the ordeal that Heineken is facing.
The beer maker has been slammed in traditional and social media since
photos of a dogfight with prominent Heineken branding went viral.
Heineken has denied knowledge of the event, which apparently occurred at
a Mongolian nightclub in 2011. Any sane person would realize right away
that Heineken is probably not sponsoring dog fighting. But it wouldn’t
be the Internet if everyone were of sound mind.
Naturally, the masses took to Heineken’s Facebook page to berate the
company. What could it do? Blindsided by the photo, Heineken launched
On Tuesday, Heineken posted twice to its Facebook page—first at 2:00
a.m. Central Time and again at 5:44 a.m. The company moved quickly to
investigate and craft a response, which can be found on its website
and its Facebook page
Here are few lessons we can take from Heineken’s misfortune:
1. Expect the unexpected and create an escalation plan.
Part of the inherent risk in having a social media presence is that
you’ve created a sounding board for the disgruntled. If you believe the
Heineken press release (and I do), it was impossible to know that a
photo existed of their branding at a dog fighting event. Therefore, it
would have been impossible to plan an immediate response when the image
Social media managers can only create a solid response plan for the
unexpected. Last week, Heineken could have listed 1,000 possible
scenarios that it could potentially have to respond to, and it’s
doubtful that the dog-fighting scenario would have come up.
What social media managers can do is teach clients and their managers
and executives that these things are possible. They’re part of the risk
you take on with social media. Decide who will be on the team that
tackles the crisis and who has what type of responsibilities. In
Heineken’s case, there was someone to identify the crisis, someone to
craft an immediate response, someone to investigate what happened, and
someone to craft a formal response. Then you have to get it all approved
by legal and implement it. Knowing who has these responsibilities will
expedite the process.
In a PR crisis like this, timing is everything. The faster you can respond, the faster the crisis dies down.
No one will be talking about this story next week. In that regard,
Heineken has done a good job. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for
2. Talk like a human.
Take a look at the immediate response Heineken put out on Tuesday:
“Heineken is aware of a shocking photo of what appears to be a
dogfighting match in a foreign country with Heineken branding visible in
the background. We'd like to thank the community for bringing this
issue to our attention.
“We are as appalled by this image as you are and have asked the Heineken
Global Office to immediately investigate the circumstances of this
event and whether Heineken was involved in any way.
“If you have any further information regarding this picture, such as the
source, or the venue where it was taken, please let us know in this
It’s not corporate speak. It doesn’t smack of a heavy legal hand
approving the copy. It sounds like a human who is genuinely appalled by
what happened and is getting to the bottom of it before making any
claims before having all the facts.
I believe that if you’re not going to speak like a human in social media, you’re better off not participating.
3. Defend ‘til the end!
There is room for improvement in Heineken’s response. The company
stopped responding to people who post on its page. Users are still
posting their messages of outrage, and Heineken’s page managers aren’t
bothering to respond.
If I was handling this PR crisis, I would respond personally with a link
to the formal letter, explaining to everyone that it wasn’t a
Heineken-sanctioned event and the company had no hand in sponsoring it.
When people come to the page to complain, they’ll see the responses to
other people and they won’t bother posting themselves. That’s how you
make these things go away quickly.