In today’s interconnected world, the power of social media in shaping public perception and influencing brand reputation cannot be overstated. Recent events involving Old Mutual and the Molefi pension fund matter serve as a poignant example of how social media can both amplify concerns and provide a platform for companies to address them.

The Emergence of a Crisis

When Sebabatso Molefi took to social media to share her family’s struggle with Old Mutual over her mother’s pension fund, little did she know the storm it would unleash. Within hours, the story went viral, triggering widespread outrage and calls for boycotts against the insurance giant. The rapid dissemination of information on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn magnified the issue, thrusting it into the public spotlight and demanding swift action from Old Mutual.

The Role of Social Media in Crisis Management

In the face of mounting pressure, Old Mutual was forced to confront the crisis head-on. 

Although there is some debate around how Old Mutual responded and the time it took them to act, they eventually recognised that the problem was not going away on its own. Recognising the need to address the public outcry, the company leveraged social media channels to communicate directly with stakeholders. They organised an emergency media briefing to provide clarity on the complexities of the Molefi case and outlined their efforts to resolve the issue. By engaging with the public via social media, Old Mutual attempted to demonstrate transparency and a willingness to listen—a crucial step in mitigating reputational damage during a crisis.

Navigating the Complexities

The Molefi case underscored the intricate nature of modern PR in the digital age. 

With social media serving as a catalyst for both positive and negative publicity, companies must navigate a delicate balance between transparency and legal considerations. 

One of the challenges when developing communications strategies for organisations in the financial services sector is that they operate in highly-regulated environments. While the general public may be whipped up into a frenzy and “demand” information, it is critical for those managing the communications of regulated businesses to understand what they can and cannot share in the public domain. 

Old Mutual’s handling of the situation highlights the importance of understanding and adhering to regulatory requirements while also addressing public sentiment in real-time. Although Molefi was not satisfied with Old Mutual’s initial response – the company could not really do more publicly on the platform X considering POPI and financial regulations. 


Turning Challenges into Opportunities

Despite the challenges posed by the Molefi case, Old Mutual seized the opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to customer service and transparency – especially after . At a media briefing on 14 March 2024 Old Mutual’s director of public affairs, Celiwe Ross said Old Mutual acknowledged the number of customers that have voiced their unhappiness on X regarding the insurer’s service. The company said that this is a huge concern to them and that they are actively looking at ways to improve. 

By engaging directly with stakeholders on social media and with the media at a media briefing, the company attempted to defuse the immediate crisis and laid the groundwork for rebuilding trust and credibility over the long term by identifying there are areas for improvement. The incident serves as a valuable lesson in the power of social media as both a catalyst for change and a tool for effective PR management.

The Old Mutual case study offers valuable insights into the evolving role of social media in public relations. In an era defined by digital connectivity and instant communication, companies must embrace social media as a vital component of their PR strategy and be mindful that they may not always be in control of the narrative with crisis strategies in place to respond timeously with relevance when needed. 

By leveraging social media channels to engage with stakeholders, address concerns, and demonstrate accountability, companies can not only navigate crises more effectively but also foster stronger relationships with their audience.

As the landscape of PR continues to evolve, organisations must remain vigilant, adaptable, and responsive to the dynamic forces of social media. By harnessing the power of digital platforms to amplify their message and engage with stakeholders, companies can not only weather storms but emerge stronger and more resilient in the face of adversity – but only if the remain open to feedback and willing to learn valuable lessons through each encounter, whether it be positive or negative.

Ane Bresler is the head of Decusatio Investor Communications – an advisory firm focused on assisting organisations with their communications, PR and content creation strategies. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or contact us to setup a meeting.