chi-burger-king-twitter-hack-20130218Today’s crazy top news item in social media was just the thing needed to continue on with the Community series of posts Kristen Fuller and I are crafting.

In case you hadn’t heard about what happened to poor Burger King’s Twitter account today, what we saw when the account was compromised was a classic example of what would be one such permutation of a Community Manager’s worst nightmare. While there are variations on a theme, the overarching commonality is that the Community Manager is dealt a hand in which they temporarily lose control of the posting of, and thus the reaction to, the content that they normally are responsible for overseeing or putting out into the ether. Nothing will make a community person reach for their trusty bottle of aspirin more than having to suddenly find out the reaction to something that’s been thrown up online is ballooning out of control and getting worse by the minute. In these situations, when the shit is threatening to, or already has hit the proverbial fan, a Community team can be tested in a variety of ways, and how they decide to react to the news and how they address it ultimately dictates what the community does about it, and whether or not it has far-reaching effects.

Of course, it doesn’t always have to be an immediately dire situation. From a games perspective, the threat of shit hitting the fan can come in the form of a server maintenance gone wrong, the introduction of a bug or two into the new build that is noticeable and not easily solved, or a misstep or a misspoken word on the part of a developer towards the community. Regardless of the degree of difficulty here, the steps for the Community folks remain the same – analyze the situation, come up with a plan of attack, craft and approve the messaging, post up the initial response, and adapt and re-respond if necessary, keeping the community up to date while working behind the scenes to acquire the latest information and a realistic timeline to resolution. While the process varies from company to company, there’s a few things that people would do well to understand when they see a Community person or other authorized individual responding to a crap-hitting-the-fan issue.

1. Response time to the issue may vary – so be reasonably patient.

The way that I see some people react to a server down issue or a patch oopsie or a mistaken set of content being posted, you’d think that the reaction to the issue should be faster than it takes to warm up a Pop Tart. While there’s something to be said about fast or near-instantaneous response – and trust me, those responses are posted (more on that next) – there’s also something about intelligently and methodically addressing the faux pas in question. The response isn’t always as simple as “roll back the server” or “delete the comments” or “apologize”, as the damage that’s already been done needs to be assessed, looked at, and attacked properly. Combine this with the fact that a company or a studio will need to ensure approval is acquired for a course of action, and that all the gears and wheels of that action need to play their parts, and you get why sometimes you might not see a response to something going on right away. I subscribe to the fact that the reasonable time in which a Community person should respond to something going on is highly variable, dependent on how severe the disruption to normal service is, the complexity of the solution (for example, “roll backs” or “reboots” can require a lot of teams moving at once to respond to an unexpected problem), and the sentiment/temperament of the community at large. A Community team needs time to help bring a messed up situation to a successful conclusion, and aside from that, I can’t speak to how those situations are handled specifically, as your mileage varies by company. So don’t worry – a good Community team is out to ensure its customers know they’re doing everything they can and are aware. This brings me to my next pointer.

2. The first response is not always meant to be the most detailed, or only, response to the issue.

Sometimes a single, detailed response to a crap-hitting-the-fan issue is all it takes in order to bring things to a successful close. For example, a developer or company representative misquote or misrepresented implication of what they said might require a single post clarifying matters. But in many situations, the first response is not always the one that contains all the answers. Sadly, this does not stop the amount of unsavory comments being said about a first response like :

Oh what a surprise, another patch another ton of errors…This is terrible tech work.

 

I’m sure they’ll get on here soon and say we should check our internet connections or our router is faulty and we need a new one.

In many cases, the first response is meant only to make the community aware of the fact that the company and its team know about what is happening, know that there’s a certain amount of dissatisfaction or otherwise non-ideal service, and that they are working on it. This kind of messaging is easy to approve, is meant to be an acknowledgment, and displays the common sense that basically says “of course we see what’s going on”. Because of my first point, and how long a confirmed resolution/plan of action can take, quick first responses that most commonly start with “We’re aware of the issue customers are experiencing with…” pay dividends in calming sentiment that the company is either unaware or not listening. Some people like to call out how “empty” and “fake” these responses are, or (my personal favorite) say that “this response does nothing to fix the issue and is insufficient, fix it now, you are losing customers”, but when you understand the intent of a first response is to notify and give courtesy to customers, rather than solve the issue outright, it gets harder to say such things.

Any Community team posting a “we’re aware of the issue” first response isn’t brushing its customers off due to lack of detail. On the contrary – posting such a response is meant to communicate that they’re absolutely not doing so. Most community folks worth their salt will almost always be working on a follow up or update with more detail (or a resolution notice) by the time you’ve seen a first response.

3. The plan of action/resolution to an issue ideally attempts to balance the reality of how the community perceived/reacted to it and the reality of what the company can do about it. 

When there’s a crap-hitting-the-fan moment, I’ve seen all manner of recommended solutions to “fix the problem” or “save face” that have come from a community. I’ve seen people ask for refunds based on time lost, complete rollbacks of patches, selected benefits extending to only a specific group of affected people, a detailed breakdown of how the issue occurred or how to prevent future issues in the interest of “being open and honest”, and more. Don’t get me wrong – there are many people who understand, suggest, and should expect reasonable resolution to the fact that an unintended issue has occurred. But what many fail to realize is that any solution or resolution to an issue that the community and development team helps put up is ideally a balanced one – one that gets and understands how the community reacted to it (and their mood, no matter how out of control it gets) but which also takes into account what a company can actually do within their power to fix things. I say “ideally”, because admittedly there are times when a company sets out to make things right but ends up not creating a satisfactory response.

Mostly, though, what I’m trying to say here is that what’s asked is not always so easily given, depending on how the company operates. Yes folks, that refund you want based on increments or minutes of time does take a lot of calculation and analysis to dole out. That rollback that you want for a patch that was planned for two months can’t easily happen overnight and not without consequences. Giving only select people compensation into perpetuity may or may not be within the bounds of possibility given the impact it has on the community as a whole. And while you may want all the details or have the complete story, sometimes what you do get is just what can realistically be approved to be talked about.

If you want an example of one of these “balanced” responses, I’ll end this post with one that many gamers remember – Sony’s PSN outage of 2011. Regardless of how you might feel about how this was handled, it’s a good example of how responses for crap-hitting-the-fan issues sometimes take form.

Sony’s Jack Tretton knew he had to address this admittedly embarrassing breach of security at E3 2011, which happened to occur during repairs to fix the outage.  When he stepped onto the stage during Sony’s press conference, he delivered the following, of which I’ve cut and excerpted for the most relevant parts:

This isn’t the first time I’ve come into an E3 press conference with an elephant in the room. Of course I’m referring to the PlayStation Network outage. This is my first chance to personally address everybody and discuss it a little bit.

So my friends who are reporters tell me that there’s absolutely nothing in the world that makes their editors’ day like controversy and bad news. So to all our esteemed members of the press I say ‘you’re welcome’.

To our third-party publishing partners – you guys have been with us for over fifteen years making tremendous games, and I know the network outage was costly to you. What’s been incredibly inspiring is your support, and your offers to help get things back up to speed, and we wouldn’t be where we are today if it hadn’t been for you, so I thank you very much.

…Which brings me to the audience that I’m most interested in addressing, and those are our consumers. You are the lifeblood of the company. Without you, there is no playstation. And I want to apologize both personally, and on behalf of the company for any anxiety we’ve caused you. I know we took you away from doing what you enjoy most -connecting in gaming with friends all over the world and enjoying the many entertainment options on playstation network…Network activity is currently at 90 percent of the original levels before the network outage, and that is something we absolutely do not take lightly. We are committed, more than ever, to ensuring that the playstation network experiences are both entertaining and secure for everybody.

While the cynical among folks will conclude this was carefully planned and crafted (it was, probably, and for very good reason considering the circumstances), it’s interesting to note that Jack Tretton acknowledges many “real” elements of the perception/reaction of the PSN outage, from the fact that the press generates a ton of reaction to bad news that is both visible and painful to companies, to the fact that publishers have lost a bunch of money, and of course, how it’s sucked for players not to have what they consider a core purchase feature.

There were a lot of demands from Playstation customers about how to deal with making things right. Ultimately, 30 days free subscription to Playstation Plus along with the offering of two games free from a selected library may not have been what some of these customers had in mind – but it was what was realistic to Sony to grant, given what happened. It’s this, coupled with the above acknowledgment of what was certainly a screwed up situation for everyone involved that form the “balanced” response I referred to – a bit of a compromise. Whether the compromise is enough is up to folks to decide for themselves – but its important to know that much more is at play when Community folks decide how to help guide reactions to bad happenings, which was of course, the point of writing this.

My empathy goes out to the Burger King community and social media folks. Hopefully, this writeup made people understand just a little bit better how they have to deal with the splattered crap of an unexpected issue.