6 Crisis Lessons Learned From Progressive’s Social Dust-Up

Insurance company Progressive—known for its hip, customer-service-oriented messaging—has been getting slammed for its handling of an insurance payout for Katie Fisher, a customer who died in a car crash in 2010. After the victim’s brother, Matt Fisher, blogged about the situation on Monday, Aug. 13, thousands of people online have expressed anger at Progressive's actions, which are detailed here on CNNMoney. In addition, there has been plenty of negative coverage via blogs and mainstream media outlets.

Thanks to a response that could at best be described as "tepid," the company’s public image has changed drastically in about 48 hours—and not for the better. Here are six crisis lessons to be learned from Progressive’s woes:

1. 24 Hours Is Too Long for a Response: Matt Fisher published his Tumblr post early on Monday, Aug. 13. Progressive’s official response on its own blog didn’t come until 2 p.m. on Tuesday. What took them so long?

2. Watch Your Language: If you want your brand to come off as caring and sensitive, never say that you met your “contractual obligations” like Progressive did.

3. Don’t “Go With the Flo”:
Using the smiling face of company “spokesperson” Flo in tweets regarding the tragic death of a customer is simply in bad taste.

4. Robotics Are Wrong:
Progressive auto-answered the outraged public posts with the same tweets—over and over—inspiring actor and blogger Wil Wheaton to run them through text-to-speech software, creating a mocking audio track that has been heard by more than 21,000 people. To make matters worse, Progressive’s Twitter app of choice, TwitLonger (which allows you to send tweets of more than 140 characters), then closed Progressive’s account, stating the tweets were spam.

5. Where’s the Video?
Progressive’s crisis had “video response” written all over it. Instead of repetitive tweets and an insensitively written blog post, how about a video featuring one of Progressive’s executives that would give the response a more personal touch?

6. Make Sure Your Argument Is Air Tight: In his original post, Matt Fisher claimed that to avoid a big payout to his sister’s estate, Progressive had a lawyer defending the driver of the car that hit Katie Fisher—implying that the accident was Katie’s fault. Progressive answered by saying on its blog: "To be very clear, Progressive did not serve as the attorney for the defendant in this case. He was defended by his insurance company, Nationwide." Matt Fisher then answered via his blog that it was clear during the trial that Progressive was working on the other driver’s behalf. What’s more, court documents show that indeed, Progressive actively participated in fighting against the Fishers' claims.

While Progressive seemingly fought hard to prove it was not liable in the case of Katie Fisher, the company's crisis actions have certainly proved to be a liability.

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About Scott Van Camp

Scott Van Camp is editor of PR News, an executive-level, reader-supported publication that helps enhance the business impact of PR. Scott has a rich background in both journalism and PR/marketing. He has more than 15 years of experience as a writer/editor at various consumer and trade publications. Scott was with VNU Business Publications for five years, including stints as managing editor at IQ News and Technology Marketing magazines and senior editor at Brandweek. In the PR/marketing sphere, he has served as corporate communications manager at MarketBridge, a marketing and sales consultancy, and as editorial director for the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council. While at the Council, Scott led several high-profile marketing research projects. He has also operated his own communications and media consulting firm, SVC Communications.

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  • Carrie Morgan

    Love the executive video suggestion, and that the “smiling Flo” avatar was completely wrong for the situation. Sometimes it is an EXCELLENT move to temporarily change that avatar in a crisis control situation. Smiling faces on tragic/sad posts can be very inappropriate and give the wrong message.