The role of digital and social media in customers relationship management and crisis management

Abstract. The experience of foreign countries is vital for Kazakhstan when it comes to Crisis Management (hereafter CM) as well as Customer Relationship Management (hereafter CRM). The development of technology, rise of the Internet and, consequently, the digitalization of the everyday life lead to the fact that, nowadays, people’s lives are centered around digital and social media. There are about 4 million active users of social media in Kazakhstan. The social media as well as the rise of mobile and various tablet devices made it much easier for people to stay connected with companies, each other and external world. Moreover it made the whole process of interaction with the businesses and customers simpler and easier, especially in terms of addressing customers’ needs, complaints and questions towards a certain company or a brand anywhere, anytime. This shows that in the contemporary era of digitalization, interaction with customers is the central element of most of the business activities. There are certain expectations that customers have regarding companies. For example, every business is expected to be able to respond to a customer’s query as soon as the query was posted on any social media platforms. Furthermore the CRM became a significant element of most of the companies. Hence Public Relations (hereafter PR) is an essential tool in supporting CRM and one of its responsibilities is to address customers’ needs and maintain constant communication with customers anytime.

This writing will be based on the role of digital and social media in PR and the way it concerns customers. It will broadly consider the analysis of advantages and disadvantages of involving social and digital media in relation to PR activities, taking into account crisis management.

Introduction Firstly, the digitalization of economic sectors. This step concerns the innovative tech-

Recent development of the Internet and communication technologies including the introduction and rise of computers, proliferation of smartphones has had a major influence on customers and the businesses themselves. Digital era has offered many opportunities and challenges to customers and companies. The rise of digital and social media created new platforms, where customers are able to post and share their comments about anything anytime and anywhere.

The digitalization process have entered Kazakhstan a while ago. To exemplify, the introduction of electronic government occurred in 2006. It can be stated that there are more than 6 million people used electronic government in 2018. There is the state portal Goszakup.gov.kz, which helps to perform all government purchases since 2010. The Goszakup.gov.kz portal creates a perfect foundation to ensure the transparency and effective use of budgetary funds.

For further digitalization of Kazakhstan the implementation of national program Digital Kazakhstan took place in 2018. There are five significant areas that government emphasis upon in this program.

nologies and opportunities that transforms the traditional sectors of Kazakhstan’s economy. This may result on a higher labour productivity and the capitalization, which would be expected to increase.

Secondly, the transition to digital state, this step includes transparent and convenient opportunities that are planned to be available to citizens, businesses and enterprises at any time in online mode. This may lead to the fact that large Kazakhstan cities will transfer to the concept of Smart City by 2022.

Thirdly, the implementation of digital Silk Way. The focus will be on the development of a highspeed and secure access to Internet and high-quality coverage of mobile communications in Kazakhstan.

Fourthly, the development of human capital. This will concern the process of improvement of digital literacy of the population. The main focus is to develop creative and critical thinking in a contemporary educational process.

Fifthly, the creation of innovation ecosystem. The emphasis on the development of technological entrepreneurship with stable relations between business, science and the state. This indicates that innovations in production is a significant step for Kazakhstan’s further development and digitalization.

Rapid adoption of Social Media Marketing as a major communication integration medium has affected the communication process as a whole. The social network development pushes businesses to ensure they are able to respond to each enquiry as soon as it was posted live on social networks. There is a shift towards a two- way communication model, where both parties: customers and businesses are able to communicate to each other on 24/7 basis, unlike a decade ago when there was only a face- to-face communication available. Nowadays customers have an opportunity to give companies their feedback, complaints and queries on social media platforms. Companies address any customers' enquiries as soon as they are posted. In particular, social media integration can be regarded as an interactive process, which creates a same-level information exchange between the people and businesses or people and the state. Therefore this creates a long-lasting feedback communication process and giving to the government or the business a total engagement approach. This demonstrates a proper two- way communication model, where both parties are engaged equally in interaction. One might suggest that sometimes this may create a positive image of a brand and sometimes not.

The majority of industries had to adapt to and adopt new technological innovations in order to stay competitive and support CRM. CRM is a crucial strategy that every business activity now has in order to fully maximize their interaction with their customers and make sure customers receive a proper service they require. The aim is to satisfy customers because if customers are satisfied they would be willing to interact with a certain company more. This, consequently, will maximize companies' profits and make the brand image more positive.

Moreover around a decade ago most of the companies did not have their profiles on social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Nowadays social networks were not a part of everyday life unlike. Technological development pushed businesses to develop new business models. This is mainly to maximize profit and minimize cost through creating a positive brand image via social media channels.

Arguably, digitalization of everyday life has a controversial impact on the businesses. On one hand, seemingly new innovative technologies had brought threats to traditional businesses. Any crisis that may happen in the business needs to be reacted instantly because of the immediate spread on the news and social media, whereas before companies had time to investigate and discuss what they need and how much they need to communicate to the customers, nowadays businesses are expected to give a statement as soon as the crisis occurred.

Most of the times businesses apologies to the audience as soon as the crisis occurred to show sympathy and that company is dealing with it. The apology also important in order to maintain loyal relationship with customers. There are various examples, where different businesses reacted differently to the crisis through social media and having both negative and positive feedback. It is a matter of experience and the way company communicate with their customers, which is, arguably, the central element of crisis management.

Methodology

This writing is mainly based upon the secondary research. As a part of the secondary data the EBSCO research database, articles were used in order to get up to date and reliable materials.

Results

Further expansion of digital and social media in Kazakhstan, consequently, further use of these tools within various business activities requires companies to make sure they would always plan the crisis management strategies carefully and well in advance. Most of the contemporary businesses are expected to be able to deal with crisis anytime, anywhere, so the best way of preventing the crisis is to be ready to it. The analysis of the research for this writing concluded that there are still quite a lot of companies and enterprises that are not ready to strategically deal with the crisis in a short time period. So it was decided to divide the crisis management recommendations into the following three main steps:

The apology is the must

One of the valuable elements that every single business or enterprise needs to consider and take into account is the apology to public as soon as the crisis occurred. In order to demonstrate to their target group that the company cares about them and that the crisis is in the process of investigating, the first statement must include a sincere apology be it for the tragedy that occurred or the inconvenience that is disrupting the lives and business activity of the customers. Depending on the crisis and the role of social media it is also a part of the crisis management to explain the steps a certain company is planning to take in order to investigate what has happened. This indicates that it is crucial to the company to remember that the maintenance of customers’ trust is the must.

Public Relations planning and business monitoring

Seemingly, the best way to prevent the crisis is an appropriate way of managing, planning and monitoring the activity around the company. Also building a loyal relationship with customers is highly advisable. In particular, an appropriate crisis management plan includes a well- structured PR plan, which includes the following steps:

Identifying a key communication group (hereafter KCG) or a key target market in order to understand what are the values of their key customers, and how they should communicate with this kind of audience in the case of the crisis. This illustrates the psychological influence and manipulation that companies use to keep the trust of their customers;

Measure customers attitude and perception about a certain business activity in order to understand how emotionally connected customers with a certain brand. Referring to the attachment theory to what extent customers connect themselves with a certain brand. In other words how they perceive brand and if they actually attached to it as this will help company to strategically plan the crisis management scheme.

Prepare a tested and well-managed crisis prevention solution and evaluate, monitor and measure results and benchmarking in order to avoid and limit the possibility of crisis.

Always investigate and get facts before making serious statements regarding the crisis

It is not always appropriate to communicate to customers as soon as the crisis occurred. When a crisis of a great scale occurs the first statement will, probably, shape the public’s attitude towards the company. In that case a hastily drafted statement written without double and triple checks may bring even more damage, if the company stayed silent for a little longer. Sometimes it is worth taking a time off to carefully consider one’s subsequent statements and actions. This though maybe creating a negative reaction at first will pay off in not damaging the company’s image even further. Also to add to the point a carefully considered well-written first statement does help in saving the remains of the image. So it can be argued that it is important to start first with the investigation, especially in this particular case as any statements, post, comments made as soon as the crisis occurred may be used against the company and it may lead to serious consequences.

Discussion

This part of this writing brings together main theoretical models and arguments relevant to the research topic. Moreover this part discusses the critical evaluation of the role of digital and social media in PR and crisis management referring to Kazakhstan. It also highlights the advantages and disadvantages of using digital and social media in PR and crisis management.

Digital and Social media in PR and crisis management

PR is one of the most essential tools that helps increase the awareness and spread the reach. It can be argued that today PR is not just about using traditional media. In the contemporary time it is more about integrating both digital and traditional media for a greater reach of appropriate audience. In particular, PR is crucial in planning and monitoring companies’ activities and how to maintain the relationship with customers. PR is significant in creating the perfect environment for new brand or product launches. This suggests that PR is important as a tool in creating awareness and promoting new products to an appropriate audience.

Social media enabled businesses and customers to interact with each other anywhere, anytime on a 24/7 basis. This shows modern companies shifting towards the digitalization and focusing on social media platforms more. It can be argued that the term of communitainment is the future of most of the businesses. This idea of the commu- nitainment refers to the blending of the meanings community, communication, and entertainment into a new form of online activity driven by consumers. This implies that companies are expected to be present on all the social media channels that their target group is using, in order to share their videos and photos, their comments and activities with their customers. In other words this, arguably, shows that now social media platforms put additional pressure on companies to be more transparent, open and show more insights to the customers. Nevertheless even considering the possible era of communitainment it is not always the case that every single company is expected to react to the crisis instantly. Any particular brand is required to decide which of the following crisis management strategies to use: the inactive or reactive strategy. Following inactive strategy company does nothing and, certainly, does not react to the crisis immediately after it was announced in social media platforms. The reactive strategy requires the businesses to do something only if necessary. And the most appropriate for the secure businesses is the proactive strategy of doing everything to prevent the issue. Nevertheless it is not always possible to prevent the problem or to react appropriately to it. It can be argued that it is very hard to deal with any kind of crisis and more importantly to come out of it clean.

On the other hand it can be suggested that a raw, undiscussed statement will harm the company's image to the point of complete failure despite all the best efforts to improve the situation afterwards. The first statement must be carefully drafted internally with the help of PR advisors, especially if the company has a limited social media exposure.

Disadvantages of digital and social media in PR crisis management

The need of a prompt reaction from the company is one of the disadvantages of social media presence in a crisis management. In other words using digital and social media platforms means that companies are expected to be available anytime anywhere. Thus if the audience is able to communicate through various platforms company required being able to respond immediately in order to save the brand image and show their sympathy.

One might argue that brand image is one of the most significant elements of every business activity, and any small negative comments may damage it. So one of the disadvantages of social media is that it can easily damage brand’s image and reputation, which consequently will affect customers’ attitude and the business itself. For example a comment can be posted on social media platforms and it can go viral, and damage companies’ reputation or negatively affect employees.

Majority of the contemporary companies monitor the hashtags of their company’s name and check the social network sites of their workers in order to understand the psychology of their customers and employees.

A small confusion on social media can lead to the big crisis, to the company with long lasting negative effect. It would, consequently, be very hard to recover from, bring back and increase customers’ trust.

Advantages of digital and social media in PR crisis management

A proper well-planned, direct dialogue with a great number of customers at once is one of the main advantages that social and digital media offer to companies in crisis management.

The use of humor and a personalized touch is another advantage that social and digital media offers in dealing with crisis.

Therefore it can be argued that the best crisis management includes following steps:

Communicate appropriately with customer with regard to the situation that happened and future plan of actions.

Company’s internal team members are a very important part of the businesses as they are the ones, who communicate with customers, so they are the key influencers of opinion.

Response needs to be immediate and the proactive actions are significant if a crisis occurred.

Conclusion

To conclude, digitalization of everyday life allowed both customers and businesses to have a constant interaction with each other. The digitalization of people’s lives lead to a certain expectations that customers have that brands are required to fulfill.

The Digital Kazakhstan is a long-term program, which is one of the most crucial and strategic areas of a state’s development. Digitalization of everyday life is a global trend, it can be regarded as an opportunity and necessity to unite, develop and create a dialogue between state and people, state and businesses.

Companies are pushed to focus on using social media more. This, consequently, leads to a certain advantages and drawbacks of using social media when dealing with the crisis that were discussed in this writing. The main conclusions that came out of this writing, that may help companies to deal with the crisis successfully are as follows; firstly, one of the basics of every business activity is to maintain the relationship with their customers and to build trust and loyal relationship with them. So if the crisis occurred (not a very serious one that may harm brand’s reputation) a company can just communicate to their customers, apologies and explain that the crisis is in the process of resolving. Secondly, the monitoring of what is happening with the company is crucial. Arguably, the monitoring may help a particular company to understand if there is a possibility of future crisis. This is mainly due to the fact that most of the times the disaster is not happening out of nowhere, quite often it is a time built problem. Thirdly, depending on the crisis the proper and immediate communication with customers is also very important. This is one of the expectations that society have regarding most of the businesses.

Nevertheless companies as well as customers need to remember that the instancy factor of social media may lead to the problems as well. As was discussed in this work a certain negative comment on social media can become viral immediately, which may lead to serious issues. This demonstrates that social and digital media are very powerful tools that open many opportunities for the businesses but at the same time it may create challenges. Therefore it is crucial to control the social media channels and plan in advance what is going to be posted on any social media platforms. A strategy of crisis management also need to be developed in advance as one must have a safety plan to be ready to deal with the crisis anytime.

 

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Year: 2019
City: Almaty