On a quiet, unassuming Wednesday morning in December, a PR disaster of monumental scale hit a local Cambridgeshire newspaper. A printing error on an edition of their paper threatened to undermine their credibility, and invite scores of complaints from angry residents. Or at least, that’s what their apology would have you believe.
After the error was first highlighted by a number of Twitter users, it didn’t take long for Cambridge News to publish an article on their website acknowledging that there had been a ‘technical error’, that they were in the process of investigating further, and that updates would be provided. They of course posted a link to this article on all of their social platforms, before starting the process of identifying everyone who had tweeted about the error, and sending them the following reply:
We would like to sincerely apologise for the technical problem that caused the main headline to not appear on the Cambridge edition, although the correct one was printed on the Cambourne News
— Cambridge News (@CambridgeNewsUK) December 6, 2017
Crisis management on social media can be a very difficult task, as it requires you to simultaneously gather, process and redistribute information that is often flowing very quickly. It’s important to quickly take control of the situation, put down any false or misleading reports, and release information in a controlled manner, whilst simultaneously dealing with people on an individual level.
From that perspective, the team at Cambridge News did a commendable job. The repetitive nature of the standardised response may at a glance look robotic and impersonal, but when you are in the middle of handling a delicate situation, having the time to compose personalised responses can be an unnecessary luxury. The priority is to share critical information, which is what was done here perfectly.
So what was this catastrophe that struck the paper? Well, it was this:
Wow. It’s real. This’ll be featured in newspaper sub-editing courses for years. And available at all good newsagents near you today, folks. pic.twitter.com/JS8YpuedVW
— Chris Rand (@ChrisRandWrites) December 6, 2017
For reasons that are yet to come to light, this edition of the paper went to print with template placeholder text on the front page, rather than the headline.
And that’s it.
There was no great crisis here. No swarms of irate customers, and no complaints. The story quickly gained popularity, with thousands of retweets and quips being made poking fun at the paper.
As the paper started issuing its apologies, people were quick to point out that actually, there’s nothing to apologise for. It was an honest mistake that had, it turned out, brought a smile to many people’s faces.
There’s no doubt that this was an awkward and embarrassing moment that went viral for Cambridge News, but it was certainly no crisis. There was no need for panic stations and formal statements – in times like the best thing to do is embrace what has happened, throw in a few emojis, and laugh along with the rest of us.
Having a robust crisis management plan is an unfortunately essential part of any good social media strategy. However, it’s a process that should only ever be activated when absolutely necessary. It’s all too easy to see the smallest of issues as being the next big Twitter storm, but the simple truth is they rarely are. If you are ever faced with a crisis, the first thing to do isn’t to clear your scheduled content, or issue a statement, or start apologising. The first thing you do is ask yourself – “Is this really a crisis?”