A PR crisis is typically defined as the moment when a small problem blows up into a big issue that could impact the long-term viability of your company. You might think that a problem like this will never, ever happen to you or to your business. Chances are, you’re wrong about that.
Social media makes it remarkably easy for anyone to poke a hole in the primacy of your brand, and without a PR crisis plan in place, a little jab could be transformed into a business-killing crisis in a matter of minutes, and it might take months or even years for you to recover from the damage.
Thankfully, pulling together a crisis plan is remarkably easy. These are the four things you simply must have in your toolkit when trouble strikes.
#1. A Solid Reputation-Management Strategy
It sounds counterintuitive, I know, but the work that you do on improving your standing in the months that lead up to a crisis could help you to survive, even if the work you do has no relationship to the crisis at hand.
Think of it this way. If you’ve done a significant amount of reputation management work, you’ll have:
- Domination over search results for your company name
- A monitoring system that can help you to spot an attack
- A plethora of widely available information about your brand and its benefits
- A number of followers who are tapped right into the messages you’d like to share
It’s a bit like developing a firewall around your company. When a problem arises, you’ll be able to see it almost immediately, and you’ll find it easy to respond with the channels you’ve already developed. In addition, you’ll be able to buffer the blow of an attack, as you’ve already associated your business with great keywords and fabulous content. Doing this work might seem tedious, but it’s really vital in helping you to protect yourself from an attack that might come in time.
#2. A Complete Understanding of What Went Wrong
Just as you wouldn’t attempt to whip up croquembouche without consulting a recipe, you shouldn’t attempt to solve a reputation problem without determining what might have caused it. Rather than responding immediately, take a moment to really understand the nature of the complaint and the situations that might have allowed that problem to take hold.
Let’s use Yelp as an example. If a reviewer chooses to pop on that website and write a scathing review about the meal served during lunch service yesterday, ask yourself:
- Who worked that shift? Those staffers might give you insight about what happened during the prep and delivery of the meal.
- Who is the reviewer? Check out the other reviews this person has written. If they’re all negative and each entry has few “likes,” this might be a pattern for this person that you simply can’t solve.
- How many positive reviews do you have on Yelp? If your page simply glows with adoration, one negative review might not be catastrophic.
- Is this review generating buzz on other sites? If you’re seeing it mentioned on Twitter or Pinterest, or the local news station wants to talk with you about it, you have a great, big problem.
Once you understand exactly what happened, who was involved and how big the crisis might be, you’ll have the information you need to craft an appropriate response. In some cases, you won’t need to do anything at all. But if you do need to respond, you’ll be able to do so in an informed manner.
#3. Control Over Your Emotions
Attacks are frustrating, and you might feel your blood pressure rising and your fists clenching. You’ve spent years or even decades building up your business, and you can see it all sliding away from you due to the actions of one aggrieved person.
These emotions are all understandable, and they can make great fodder for a therapy session. But they shouldn’t be part of your response to a problem, either publicly or privately. If you simply must vent, write a Word document full of all of the nasty, spiteful, clever responses you can think of, and when you can think of no words you’ve left unspoken, throw that document away. Only then will you be ready to speak to the issue publicly.
#4. Humans in Control
Any response to an attack should come from a living, breathing human being and all automatic responses should be disabled. If you send an apology through the airwaves and people choose to hit back at you, an automated response that thanks them for their time can just add to the damage.
Consider this: American Airlines came under fire in 2013 for thanking all writers for their Twitter mentions, even when those mentions contained complaints or insults. Articles that pointed out this fact really didn’t help the company deal with a reputation management problem.
When you respond, you should sound like a human being, and that response should be appropriate for the issue at hand. Nothing else will really do the trick. (I’ve written about apologies before, and that article might be worth another peek, should you need to write a truly penitent response.)
Have you been through a PR crisis with your company that you handled in an innovative way? If so, I’d love to hear from you!
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