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Death By a Thousand Bots: A Lesson in Crisis Communications

 
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November 1, 2022, Taylor Swift announced her long awaited U.S. Tour. The Era’s Tour promised to be
bigger and better than any of her previous tours. Swifties across America started preparing. My sisters
and I were no different. We picked our ideal location – Nashville. With three shows in the Music City, we
felt pretty good about our chances to get tickets. Instead we had a textbook lesson in how not to handle crisis communications.

November 14, 2022, at approximately 2:30 p.m., I got the email. I was selected as a Ticketmaster Verified Fan. My sisters received the same email. Plus, we had one Capitol One Presale Code. Four chances between us. Ticketmaster assured fans they were ready.

Long story short, they weren’t.

The Meltdown

A friendship bracelet operation at the kitchen table
We got to work making friendship bracelets for the big night!

Like thousands of others, we got stuck in the ticket queue. After 5 hours, and some frozen website drama, I got in – the only seats left were in the nosebleed section, behind the stage. Like any middle-aged Swiftie with sisters and nieces depending on her – I panic-bought the first 6 tickets I could find together. And after seeing what other fans ended up paying, I was happy to get what we got.

But, enough about me. Let’s dissect what was happening across the country during this ordeal and who wasn’t taking control of the narrative.

Tickets went on sale at 10:00 a.m. Thursday, November 15. By 11:00 a.m., it was clear there was a
problem. By noon, Instagram, Twitter (now X), and TikTok were filled with fan accounts of what was
happening.

View of Taylor Swift on stage in Nashville, TN on May 5, 2023.
Our nosebleed seats gave us a great view of the light show on the stage.

By 12:30 p.m. it was clear Ticketmaster wasn’t ready for the demand – or for the fallout. The company had no plan.

The initial response from Ticket Master was issued on Thursday and quickly deleted. It consisted of technical explanations with no compassion or acknowledgement of the frustrations and disappointment customers experienced.

By Friday morning, even Taylor Swift was expressing her disappointment in Ticketmaster posting on social media:

“I’ve brought so many elements of my career in-house. I’ve done this SPECIFICALLY to
improve the quality of my fans’ experience by doing it myself with my team who care as much about my fans as I do. It’s really difficult for me to trust an outside entity with these relationships and loyalties, and excruciating for me to just watch mistakes happen with no recourse.”

Nearly 30 hours after the debacle began – Ticketmaster issued an apology, blaming the issue on
unprecedented demand and bots.

Screen announce release of Speak Now Taylor's Version in Nashville on May 5, 2023
Bad seats aside, the night was amazing!

So, what can we learn from this failure in crisis communications?

1. Have a plan. Make sure organization leaders know the plan. If you are about to embark on a super public venture with the potential for something to go terribly wrong (and Swifties are your
target audience) revisit that plan in the weeks before going live.

2. This should be part of the plan but is important enough to warrant a separate bullet. Have preapproved statements. These statements need to acknowledge hardships, and anyone negatively impacted by your organization.

3. Communicate (with compassion) as quickly as possible. Keep communicating. It may feel repetitive, but in the Ticketmaster case, the company line was overshadowed by messages from disappointed fans.

4. Be transparent through the life of the crisis.

5. Figure out why you fell short and communicate how you plan to fix it in the future.

Think about it like this. If you disappointed a friend or family member, someone you care about and wanted to keep in your life what would you do? Most likely apologize for your mistake and promise to
do better. Your customers and supporters deserve nothing less.

Crisis communications is definitely stressful, but you can lower your stress levels by having a plan before you need it.

Want to read more?

This article from People did a great job with the Ticketmaster meltdown timeline.

Read how Swifties led the charge to change laws here.

Are you interested in learning more?

Join Public Relations Pros from across North Alabama and join NAPRCA today!

 

About This Post

Posted on March 1, 2024
Posted by Amanda Jarrett