Three Positive Takeaways from Progressive Insurance’s Twitter Blunder

As a PR pro, imagine waking up to this headline about your client: “My Sister Paid Progressive Insurance to Defend Her Killer in Court.” To me, that sounds like a nightmare. Yesterday afternoon, Progressive Insurance experienced that headline, and subsequent uproar within the Twittersphere surrounding its recent crisis.

If companies are going to engage with their customers on social media, a crisis communications strategy needs to be in place, and understood, should something go awry. Consistent and timely messages need to be sent via the appropriate channels the company operates in, from its website to Twitter account.

While there are obvious legal, ethical, and reputational issues going on here, Progressive’s social media team is handling this issue with success. Their original tactic of automating tweets may have been a mistake, but within minutes of those posts, they quickly regained their credibility. Here are a few key takeaways from this Progressive Twitter “disaster” that can be implemented into your brand’s social media crisis communications plan.

1. Publicly take ownership of your social media content. In all of its tweets, Progressive includes the initials of the specific team member who is answering a question or responding to a comment (for example, it shows “^SR” to identity that Susan is the person replying). Its team members’ pictures, along with their identifiable initials, are displayed above for quick reference. This puts a face to a tweet, and makes people feel that an internal, dedicated team is answering their questions (and cares).

2. Show your audience that you are taking the issue seriously. Progressive’s official Twitter handle immediately changed its main picture from Flo’s beaming face to the Progressive logo. This conservative move was smart. To have Flo’s enthusiastic smile next to concerned followers asking sensitive questions would appear untimely and careless. While it is difficult to display concern in 140 characters, there are other actions that the company can take, like changing a kitschy avatar or background photo to show fans that the team is indeed taking this seriously.

3. Openly manage the mistake. While no one on the Progressive Twitter team explicitly apologized for the automated, robotic tweets that caused the uproar in the first place, they halted the automation, and answered all responses individually. They also owned up to their mistakes one by one, and were available to accept criticism from their followers.

Aside from your personal position on the issue, how do you think Progressive’s Twitter team handled their mass influx of responses and comments? Is this a reputational/legal issue, or a social media issue? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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