|The Stanley Cup Riots in Vancouver: a Case Study in Online Reputation Crisis Management.|
By Daniel Edward Craig
Thursday, 23rd June 2011
I’ve been writing and speaking about online reputation management for almost two years now, but it’s never felt so real or close to home as last Wednesday night; from the balcony of my friend’s condo in downtown Vancouver I watched my hometown’s reputation, which took decades to build, be dismantled in a few hours as vandals set fire to cars, smashed windows and looted stores.
The disappointment of the Vancouver Canucks’ loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals quickly gave way to shock and anger. After hosting a successful Winter Olympic Games in 2010 and building a reputation as one of the cleanest, safest, most desirable tourist destinations on earth, Vancouver was now being rebranded as a breeding ground for hooligans, thieves and sore losers.
Negative coverage was instantaneous, in online and offline media and on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. “The pointless riots that followed the Canucks' defeat make a mockery of Vancouver's claims to be a world-class city,” screamed a headline in the Guardian UK. Images normally associated with troubled countries like Syria and Libya were now tagged Canada. All this because of a game?
The city’s dramatic fall from grace and the swift reaction that followed from citizens and officials to defend and restore its reputation represents an excellent opportunity to review key principles of online reputation management in crisis situations.
Crisis, what crisis?
Typically, threats to reputation in the tourism industry are limited to minor issues like a bad review, a mean-spirited tweet or an embarrassing video. Considering the issues other tourist destinations have faced in the past—natural disasters, oil spills, economic meltdowns, armed conflicts—the Stanley Cup riots can hardly be considered a crisis.
Yet as the video United Breaks Guitars and the YouTube clip of Domino’s pizza employees misbehaving have demonstrated, content that goes viral in social media can cause serious, long-term damage to reputation.
Recently, the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan turned the tables and used social media to counter an attack on its reputation. After Newsweek.com listed Grand Rapids as one of America’s top-ten dying cities, the local community got together to produce a video that showcased a city bursting with life and pride. The video has received over 3.3 million views in just a few weeks.
How an organization responds to a reputation crisis can have a significant impact on the extent of the damage. Here are few key areas to focus on.
1. Be prepared
Having a social media policy in place that clearly outlines guidelines for employee conduct and the consequences of violating policy may help your organization avoid a reputation crisis entirely. The policy should identify steps to take in the event of a crisis, communication channels to follow and individual responsibilities.
A social media policy wouldn’t have prevented the incident in Vanouver. But having experienced similar riots after the Canucks lost in the 1994 Stanley Cup finals, the city was better prepared to act quickly to contain fallout. This was certainly the case both on the official and grassroots levels.
2. React swiftly
Considering the rapid-fire pace at which information can spread online, a swift reaction to a crisis situation is critical. But first you should fully understand the situation and potential consequences and, as appropriate, consult legal and public relations professionals.
3. Publish an official response
People can be quick to condemn but may change their mind upon hearing your side of the story, particularly if it’s conveyed with sincerity and humility and speaks to your organization’s track record and credentials.
In Vancouver, Mayor Gregor Robertson and Premier Christie Clark appeared together before cameras the day after the riots to survey the damage and vowed to bring the vandals to justice. Stressing the positive, they praised emergency personnel, the citizens who opposed the rioters and the volunteers who helped clean up.
"In these people I saw the spirit, grace and responsibility that make Vancouver and British Columbia the kind of place we all want to live,” said Clark in an official statement.
4. Fight bad publicity with good publicity
When inaccurate and damaging content is posted online, the obvious first reaction is to try to get it removed. Contact the host site, ask politely and don’t be heavy-handed. You can solicit help from Google to remove unwanted content. Litigation is also an option, but takes time and is expensive.
Removing content isn’t always possible, however, particularly after it has spread. The alternative is to try to bury it or displace it with favorable content.
Soon after the riots, favorable content began showing up online alongside negative stories and imagery. An image of a couple kissing during the riots went viral, and dozens of websites, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds were erected for citizens to express shame and dismay, to identify rioters and to show support for emergency personnel and law enforcement officials.
5. Rally supporters
Another critical component of reputation management in crisis situations is to rally your supporters. In Vancouver the groundswell of patriotism following the riots occurred organically, and city officials, tourism organizations and local businesses helped it along by echoing the sentiments and providing platforms for expressing them.
The plywood “wall of shame” that covered shattered storefront windows became a “citizens’ wall” covered with handwritten messages of civic pride, defiance and condolence. The people who fought the rioters were honored, and the Bay department store held a pancake breakfast to thank volunteers who cleaned up the streets.
A community blog called This is Our Vancouver was erected carrying the message “The actions of a few aren’t a true reflection of our city”. Developed by DDB Canada in partnership with Tourism Vancouver, the portal aggregates photos, videos and stories from across the internet and social media channels and encourages people to contribute their take on what best defines the city.
“Today, Vancouver's integrity shines again,” said Tourism Vancouver president and CEO Rick Antonson. “This is a testament to the commitment of this city's citizens to set things right if they have gone wrong. ‘This Is Our Vancouver.com’ is our way of helping the world know that Vancouver’s greatest asset is its people.”
Recognizing that Vancouver’s reputation reflects Canada’s reputation as a whole, the Canadian Tourism Commission supported the initiative. “We applaud the citizens who mobilized so quickly to remind the world what Canada is really all about,” said Greg Klassen, the senior vice president of marketing strategy.
6. Use feedback to build strengths and strengthen weaknesses
No question, the riots have blemished Vancouver’s reputation, but the city is fortunate that the incident was short-lived and no lives were lost. It’s unlikely that many people will cancel travel plans or avoid the city as a result.
The long-term consequences will in part depend on the city’s commitment to listening to feedback related to the incident and using it to get better and prevent recurrences—another key component of reputation management.
Above all, reputation management is about authenticity and transparency. Fortunately for Vancouver, the city has little to hide and much to show off. In part due how the city and its citizens acted to contain the damage and restore the city’s reputation, soon the riots will be a footnote in its history, and online searches will once again bring up stories and images of majestic mountains, sparkling glass high-rises and friendly, hospitable people.
Daniel Edward Craig is a former general manager turned hotel consultant specializing in social media strategy and reputation management. He is the author of three novels, a popular blog, and various articles about the hotel industry, as well as The Hoteliers’ Guide to Online Reputation Management. Visit www.danieledwardcraig.com.
Copyright © 2011 Daniel Edward Craig. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission