Today’s public relations environment is different. In past ages, stories about your brand might be disseminated by the press. It would start with a press conference or interview, then other outlets would pick a story up over a period of a few days. In most cases, small brands were not as vulnerable to this sort of exposure the way that bigger brands were. Now, every single person with an internet connection has the ability to send a story on its way to being viral.
When something goes wrong, the news can travel around the world faster than you think.
When an idea goes viral
Take the case of Memories Pizza. In late March of 2015, the proprietors answered a question from a local reporter about a controversial bill that would allow businesses to choose who they did business with on the basis of their religious beliefs. The reporter asked whether Memories would be willing to cater to a same-sex wedding. The answer was a resounding no.
Hours after the story was published, online news outlets like Buzzfeed and Huffington Post picked up the story. Individuals from all over the world shared links to news stories. Others visited the pizza place’s Yelp page to leave one point reviews criticizing the restaurant’s position. A representative from Yelp said that nearly 3,000 reviews left by people who had not visited the restaurant had been removed by the first week of April.
By April 3, the restaurant had temporarily closed due to social media backlash and threats. While relief came in the form of a crowd-funded donation drive on GoFundMe, the restaurant still has a 1.5-star rating on Yelp. Reviews left as recently as March, 2017 continue to reference the two and a half-year-old story.
Slow action can harm your brand’s reputation
Big brands are as or more vulnerable to sudden changes in public opinion. National fast-casual brand Chipotle made headlines when they committed to sourcing ingredients locally and sustainably whenever possible. However, this attention to their ingredient sourcing worked against them when a series of foodborne illness breakouts affected stores in 13 states. The first, in Seattle, sickened five people due to an unknown source of E. coli contagion. By August, 234 people in Simi Valley, California became ill with norovirus. This was followed by 64 people in Minnesota getting sick after eating Salmonella-contaminated tomatoes. The outbreaks continued in more states, eventually making 350 people ill. By February 8, 2016, the brand had temporarily closed all of its 2000 stores to hold food-safety meetings with employees.
The largest criticism against the chain is that they failed to act quickly. While the first outbreak occurred in July, the news about the problem was not shared for months. Outlets such as Bloomberg News labeled the brand smug and unresponsive. It appeared that the brand did not take the reputation management steps needed to both prevent future outbreaks and protect itself from negative feedback.
The slow response had long-term repercussions for Chipotle. Mashable reported that, on the anniversary of the day the first outbreak was discovered, the brand’s earnings were 16% lower than they had been in the same quarter the previous year. While the brand has since recovered, food safety fears are never far away. On January 27 of this year, a one-day closing of a Chipotle in Boston’s financial district prompted a story in the Boston Globe, complete with references to the late 2015 food scandal.
How to handle a crisis with your brand
Should a reputation issue threaten your brand, quick and level-headed thinking is essential. The sooner you react effectively, the smaller the chance of a social media firestorm.
A few of the strategies you need for effective crisis management:
1. Monitor social media 24 hours a day.
A crisis can occur at any time day or night. For instance, when Amazon delisted a number of novels they considered “adult” in April 2009 over a weekend, the internet was still quick to notice. The massive retailer responded once the business week started, but the issue had already gone viral.
2. Acknowledge the crisis quickly.
Definitive answers are not needed right away. It is enough to let customers know that you know there is a problem and that you are working on solutions.
3. Research the issue thoroughly.
Who is affected? What is the current sentiment about your brand? What caused the issue to occur?
4. Do not act rashly.
Acting too quickly and without thinking can harm your brand more than it can help. Do not take steps that you cannot take back. At every stage, think not just of your organization, but all stakeholders. Employees, customers, suppliers, and investors are all affected by what you do as the crisis occurs.
5. Have a written crisis plan in place.
Study how other brands have handled the sorts of reputation management issues that your brand may face. Create an actionable plan to deal with these issues before they ever occur. Doing drills on how you will react in a crisis can help you react more quickly and effectively when a real one happens.
The brands that survive and thrive are the ones that are crisis ready. By planning reactions in advance and working well when bad things happen, you can save your brand’s reputation and keep your image clean and positive.
Every brand suffers occasional missteps. The key is how — and how quickly — you react when they happen.
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.