Social media has become a go-to platform for public relations professionals. In a matter of seconds, a brand can send a message that will reach loyal customers, potential consumers, news networks, and others. Some companies handle crises on social media better than others. Every company needs to understand the importance of crisis management for branding/customer relations and establish best practices for social media marketers and public relations professionals to use in any potentially damaging situation. Here are some tips for what to do when a public relations crisis strikes your company.
1. Be Prepared
Crises happen, and no one wants to be caught unprepared. Your team’s actions could make it worse, if they aren’t properly prepared. Be preemptive in making sure your team knows what to do, when to do it, and how to manage the crisis. Most importantly, establish communication plans and know in advance who will speak publicly in the face of such events.
2. Own The Crisis (Apologize, Then Act)
Don’t try to hide what happened. Transparency looks so much better than being caught in a lie – and, in the day of social media, you can’t really expect any secret to stay quiet. What your mom said still holds true in marketing – it’s not that you made a mistake, it’s that you lied about it. Step up, take responsibility for what happened; initiate immediate responses and quickly respond to feedback on all platforms. Maintain a calm public face, recognizing concerns, listening to questions, and giving answers to the conversations that matter. Don’t forget to post response messages to the press, as well.
3. Train Your First-responders
It only takes a few moments for a crisis to ruin a reputation that took decades to build. Getting ahead of it matters, but if the person behind the screen mismanages the crisis, your business may be in even worse trouble.
Consider what happened when TickPick, the company trying to become a competitor of StubHub, left Michigan’s Upper Peninsula off its map. When a user brought it to the company’s attention, TickPick responded with “we got the important part of Michigan, isn’t that good enough?” That started a social media standoff. Once the business’s statuses were covered in negative responses, TickPick made matters worse by saying that the area was just a bunch of trees. To ease the ire of the community, TickPick’s owner showed up at a local brewery and bought about $5,000 worth of beer for those there. The town was appeased, but it came at a cost.
The takeaway here is that, while you need to get ahead of criticisms or negative press, you need to be considerate and thoughtful when you do. Be sure the person who handles your business’s social media know how to make the problem better, not worse.
4. Get In Front Of The Narrative
It’s crucial to train your team ahead of such an event, because taking too long to respond can be just as bad as the narrative you’re trying to control. Look no further than this year’s kerfuffle that struck United Airlines. The CEO and his team carefully planned every step they would take for all possible flaws. They paralyzed themselves and lost control of the narrative as social media stirred up a frenzy of negative press.
The CEO’s first response in a crisis like this must be to get out front and start apologizing, remedying the immediate problems in the most public way possible, and taking the time to adjust policy going forward. Had United Airlines stepped up and refunded tickets or paid for new tickets, the resulting narrative would have been much kinder on the company. Whatever it is your company needs to do, do it first, then plan the next steps. Even if you believe your company was in the right – as United did.
5. Be Human
Companies across the globe often portray the wrong image in crises without realizing it. Standing up and saying, “this is a problem and we will investigate” only succeeds in confirming what people are already thinking: “They don’t really care.” Instead, replace that message by changing your image. Humanize your company. It’s hard to exonerate a corporation, but a business with a face is much easier to forgive.
If policy changes are necessary, but you haven’t changed yet, say that. Announce clearly that you know what changes need to be made, and a plan for how you will implement the changes. Don’t let your image be “Big Business” or “Big Industry,” as the reputation for those businesses is that they always look out for themselves. Show your company as a group of people trying to do the right thing.
6. Separate Logic From Emotion
The crisis may be unwarranted, and that’s frustrating, but you need to put a good face on your response. If an outsider, whistle-blower, or a press member’s actions offend or trouble you, don’t treat what they say as a fact vs. fiction scenario. Say what your customers need to hear, and do your best to make things right. Don’t take it personally, or you may respond in a way that sounds too angry. This does not mean that all your responses should be devoid of emotion. On the contrary, contrite feelings communicate your humanity to observers better than any tweet, no matter how well-crafted.
7. Check, Coordinate, Communicate
Keep your team on watch monitoring all media outlets and social media platforms. The sooner your team spots any unusual or negative activity connected to your crisis, the sooner your plan can respond with preplanned materials. Keep a tight watch on your ship, making sure all communications go through approved channels. Having unnamed sources inside your company talking to the press, or sending anonymous tweets from private accounts, only serves to confuse the message and undermine your efforts to respond to the crisis.
8. Understand The Nature Of The Problem
When asked a question about the event, either by stakeholders or the press, always have an appropriate answer. Never let your response be “no comment.” To do this, you need to know what happened. Having processes for internal communication helps keep you abreast of what is known and what is changing.
If you’re still trying to understand what happened, say that. Saying you have nothing to say leads viewers to assume guilt or make up their minds based on what they’ve read elsewhere. You also need to understand which policies of your company need to change and to communicate this clearly. This falls under the admitting fault and accepting responsibility aspects of crisis response.
9. Pay Attention To Your Team
Don’t just react. Your company’s brand and reputation depend on your responses. Before you say anything publicly, first make sure the plan calls for you to respond. Second, consult with your PR team to make sure you know what needs to be said. If they give you specific advice, listen to them. If you have prepared properly, you should trust your team to know what happened, what needs to be done, and how to say it. When you tackle social media, pay attention to the best times to post. Knowing this ahead of time can mean saving time when it matters.
10. Address The Issue Directly
Don’t avoid the issues when speaking publicly. Any part of the narrative that the public may assume is true warrants a clear response. Don’t let emotions cloud your statement; address it once and only with the facts you know to be true. This avoids those random clips of your indirect response being misconstrued or repeatedly quoted out of context.
These steps lay out the basics of a plan that can help your company face a public relations crisis. Proper management of your social media presence requires a team that constantly monitors social and traditional media conversations about your company. Be prepared, be deliberate and specific, and keep responses positive. If a crisis does occur, your company will be prepared to weather the storm and emerge unscathed.
* Adapted lead image: Public Domain, pixabay.com via getstencil.com