This week, the German car manufacturer Volkswagen found themselves in the middle of a worldwide scandal. The company has allegedly been dishonest when it comes to emissions tests performed in the United States. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), some cars being sold in the US had inbuilt devices that could detect that the car was in a testing environment changing the diesel engine's performance to improve the results of the test.
Handling the crisis
It is clear that Volkswagen has a well-thought crisis management plan for situations like this. After the crisis became public, the company has been very transparent and has admitted the alleged claims. They have also tried to take public responsibility for what happened and the company’s CEO has resigned even though he informed that he was not aware of the matter. Their message has been clear on every channel: ”We messed up. We are sorry. We will fix it.”
On social media, the company went into a crisis mode stopping their regular posting. In the beginning, this meant a lot of silence. Now the company has activated their crisis communication on social media with apologies and promises of the company doing everything in their power to fix the problem.
The majority of the engagement with the brand’s social media properties is through Facebook and on Twitter through comments on posts and through the use of hashtags such as #vw, #vwscandal, #vwgate, and #volkswagen.
On Twitter, the company is receiving high levels of negative sentiment from car owners, who have bought their cars in hopes of lowering their emissions and now have up to 40 times higher emissions than promised. In addition to people feeling cheated, the meme-mania has erupted with the common theme being the radical amounts of emissions the cars produce.
On Facebook, the company’s posts have at the beginning of the crisis received a lot of similar negative sentiment and remarks, but as they have successfully rolled out their crisis communication, more and more people are starting to support the brand. Employees and long-time Volkswagen car owners are stepping forward saying that this is just a single mishap and the whole company should not be judged by it, even though it is a big mishap. Though the public sentiment is still very negative towards the company, there are clear signs of light towards the end of the tunnel.
What follows and will it spread?
The scandal has geographically spread from the United States to Europe and is now a topic being discussed on a global spectrum. Now that the first shock has worn off and the crisis is starting to reach its peak, it is threatening to spread across the industry to other car manufacturers’ brands. Volkswagen owns car brands such as Porsche and Audi that are also at risk of becoming part of the crisis.
Volkswagen has been able to handle a bad situation well and the reactions from the public on social media are slowly beginning to show signs of hope. The company has been able to communicate consistently and have clearly shown that they are owning up to their mistake and taking serious measures to fix the harm done. There are two ways to handle a crisis on social media. There’s the right way and the wrong way. At this point, Volkswagen seems to have gone the right way.