Effective reputation management is more important than ever before. Information and ideas travel faster than ever before. And, the nature of the internet means that opinions about your brand, whether positive or negative, can live on for days, weeks and years after a crisis occurs.
On fast-moving platforms like Twitter, you can go from quietly posting to trending hard in a matter of hours or even minutes. A rapid response to public relations issues is an essential facet of good reputation management. If your company is not PR-crisis ready, read on to learn how to manage a crisis before it begins.
Effective crisis management takes two forms: first, have the savvy to avoid common pitfalls. Learning from the mistakes of other brands and the research done on public opinion can help keep PR crises’ at bay. However, no matter how careful you are, sometimes a public relations issue can catch you by surprise. By knowing what to do when a problem occurs, you can minimize damage and keep your brand’s reputation intact.
Prevention Is the Best Cure
1. Have communication policies in place to avoid a crisis.
Make sure that all employees understand what is expected of them when they are communicating with the public, whether it is by phone, email or through social media. We’ve all seen companies have to apologize for what their employees post on Facebook, Twitter or another platform. Often, with some oversight, these posts would never have occurred in the first place. By having a strong and clear policy in place, you can cut the chances of a social media faux pas.
Consistent messaging is just as important for customer service and other customer-facing employees. Basic messaging can help ensure that every customer is treated equally well and that no one is thrown off by a call from a customer who is unhappy. Having a procedure in place to escalating complaints can defuse situations quickly.
2. Invest in social media monitoring.
Knowing what people are saying online about your brand is vital. Are people happy with your service? Is there a policy that has either upset or delighted customers? How do people feel about your brand versus your competitor?
Keeping a finger on the online pulse can help you decide what changes to make to keep customers happy and what policies you should leave alone. This can help you avoid the decisions that can make current and potential customers unhappy and keep you safe from social media and other PR problems.
3. Offer excellent customer service, always.
When a brand is beloved by customers, they are more likely to find that they are forgiven quickly. However, a brand whose reputation is already in peril will find that any incident can push consumers to the edge. United, like many other airlines, has had to deal with customers antagonized by flight delays, shrinking seats and an ever-growing list of “premium” services that used to be free. When passenger David Dao refused to deplane after being bumped in a 2017 flight, social media users were primed to take the individual’s side. While additional evidence showed that Dao shared a great deal of the fault for the on-plane incident, it was too late for United. Many flyers are still leery of taking the airline due to this and other customer service issues.
4. Learn to anticipate trouble.
While some social media issues cannot be easily anticipated, others are blindingly clear in hindsight. A poor earnings report, a price increase or a change in customer policy are all incidents that have led to public relations issues for one brand or another at a given time. By learning from other companies mistakes, you can keep your own from undoing your brand’s success.
Often, transparency is the best way to short-circuit these bumps in the road before they become major issues. When customers understand why a change is coming, for instance, they are more likely to be understanding. You should also be open to input from stakeholders when it comes to making changes. When customers feel that they are being listened to and their voices honored, they are more likely to feel comfortable with the directions their favorite brands take.
Speed Is Critical in Crisis Management
No matter how careful you are, some situations cannot be anticipated or avoided. In these cases, a decisive and correct action is needed to ensure that your brand comes through with minimal damage.
1. Have a plan.
A crisis communications plan is your instruction manual to defusing a potential crisis before it explodes. Who will respond? Can you safely apologize without introducing issues of liability? Working with a crisis communications consultant can help you formulate a plan so that you know what to do when PR disaster strikes.
Above all, it is important to have a plan for responses when a public relations issue is brewing. Often, you will hear from press outlets before a story runs that can negatively affect your brand. No matter what response you have to give, the worst response is none at all. Even just telling outlets that you are aware of the issue and are doing everything you can to address concerns can go a long way toward helping you weather the storm.
2. Do not give in to knee-jerk reactions.
It can be tempting to fire back and defend yourself when you run into trouble online. However, poorly considered defenses can create more trouble than they solve. At the time of this writing, inventor Elon Musk is perhaps learning this lesson. Earlier in July, Musk offered to create a miniature submarine to rescue a Thai soccer team trapped in an underground cave. Since rescue efforts were already underway, officials in charge declined his help. Rather than accepting this gracefully, Musk fired off a series of defensive Tweets, including one alleging that one of the rescuers was a pedophile. While Musk deleted these tweets quickly, the damage was already done. Savvy Twitter users screen capped and shared the offending posts, and they are being shared in a number of articles critical of the tech magnate. While the long-term damage remains to be seen, many associated with Musk probably wish he’d gone for a walk instead.
3. Don’t stonewall, but don’t overdo communication, either.
When people are unhappy, they want some sort of response. Even a short message that says you are aware of customer concerns is a good start. However, sometimes a little bit of quiet on your end can help, as well. Often, there are questions that you cannot or should not answer. Do not give concrete answers, for instance, if there is a chance you will have to backpedal later. Saying that you do not have all the facts yet is a better approach; it is honest and will not leave people feeling lied to if you need to change directions. By giving what information you have, but avoiding speculation, you can keep your firm’s reputation intact.
4. Analyze what happened and adjust.
Sometimes, a social media or other reputation crisis comes from an area you did not anticipate. A pre-scheduled tweet may be released at just the wrong time. A commercial may inadvertently contain a message that could be misread. When this happens, analyze where it went wrong and what you could have done to prevent it. Should scheduled social media posts be reviewed more often before posting? Are there resources that can better educate team members?
Reputation management is not a one and done proposition. As the ways that we communicate change and evolve, the ways that we handle sensitive situations must, as well.
Can we help you?
Building an effective crisis management process that incorporates crisis management, crisis communications, and other functions within your firm is what we do here at Bryghtpath. Such a process can help you weather the storm when you encounter a significant issue.
Bryghtpath has built the crisis management plans and frameworks for many Fortune 500 organizations, non-profits, and public sector agencies. Our firm has more than a century of experience in developing actionable plans to help prepare organizations for the unexpected. Our expertise includes crisis communications and emergency plans/exercises.
Contact us today at +1.612.235.6435 or via our contact form.