There are different ways that a crisis can impact your company. There may be a direct connection between your company and the crisis. One example of this is the PR crisis Pepsi created with their tone-deaf advertisement about a police brutality protest. In other cases, a crisis occurs that requires your response. This could be a tragic event in the city where your headquarters are located. Finally, there are some crisis events that impact enough people that audiences simply expect brands to respond appropriately.
Not only are you expected to respond in the event of a crisis, but people will broadcast their opinions on the sincerity and quality of that response. The best place to handle these kinds of crisis communications is through the channels you’re already using to engage with your audience. By using your digital marketing channels, you can reach everyone you need to with your message.
Technique #1: React Quickly to Control the Conversation
Don’t wait to respond to a crisis on social media. The longer you wait, the more time you give your competitors, angry customers, and trolls to take control of the narrative. Show your customers that you are aware, and taking action by getting your message out there quickly. You’ll appear more transparent and forthcoming by doing so. It is also essential to retain trust of your customers.
Keep in mind that people will look to social media for information and updates. They’ll also go there to vent, gossip, and spread information both correct and incorrect. One thing you can do is create a thoughtful hashtag for sharing information. Then, include that in all of your posts related to the incident across all of your social media platforms. This ensures that your official messages stand out, and gives your audience something to look for to get the information they need.
Technique #2: If You Don’t Know: Say So
Nothing looks worse to your customers than maintaining silence in the midst of a crisis. The only thing that comes worse is sniping at inquiries with a terse, ‘no comment!’. If you’re still investigating the problem, just say so. It’s better to tell your customers that you are determining the cause of the problem and the best course of action than to leave them waiting to hear anything at all.
Next, you’ll want to decide how often you will provide your followers with new updates. If the crisis is big enough, and you’re directly in control of the outcome, you might consider updating as often as every ten minutes. Even repeating that you are still investigating, or waiting for information is better than saying nothing.
Technique #3: Identify Who Will be in Charge of Crisis Communication and Engagement
Well-intentioned employees who send out incorrect or incomplete information can do a lot of damage. Part of your crisis management planning should include identifying the staff members who are allowed to post about the issue on your digital marketing channels and speak to the media. All other employees should be instructed to direct any inquiries to the designated spokespeople.
Consider choosing a primary platform for sharing updates and other information. Then, link to that with a stickie post or equivalent on your other social platforms. Pick your most heavily trafficked platform to act as your main source of information. That way you are able to get important information out to the most people.
Technique #4: Tell Your Customers What to Do
Eric Edwards, a writer at Trust my Paper emphasizes, “Yes, even your crisis communication needs a call to action. Your customers need to know what to do next. If the issue involves one of your products, provide any information they need to get that product repaired or replaced. If you plan on providing a refund, share that information as well. If anything changes, give the updated information as you post new updates.”
Even if your company isn’t directly involved in the crisis, you can still be a source of helpful advice and resources. Use your platform to share helpful tips, and to link to community resources that could be useful to your audience.
Technique #5: Be Proactive in Building Goodwill
Have you ever noticed that some brands can make some pretty major mistakes, and customers forgive them pretty quickly? On the other hand, are brands that seem to be under constant scrutiny. They receive harsh, public reactions over every little misstep.
This happens for a couple of reasons. There are some industries that simply tend to earn a negative sentiment. Whether it’s fair or not cable providers, health insurance companies, and others seem to suffer from poor public perception. Thus, when something goes wrong a certain amount of malice is assumed by the public.
In other cases, the problem is that the beleaguered company simply hasn’t done enough to foster goodwill and build trust. That’s a shame because that can go a long way towards managing a crisis. Part of planning and preparing for a crisis must include establishing a friendly and open social media presence, engaging with customers in a positive way, and working to boost trust metrics. Brands should use social listening tools before during and after a crisis to stay on top of customer sentiment. A solid reputation to begin with makes crisis communication much easier to navigate.
Technique #6: Keep it Positive
There are going to be people who post negative things about your company in these situations. There are going to be people who post false things about your company in these situations. Bloggers will write posts that spin things in order to further some narrative they are trying to push. It is almost never a good idea to go toe to toe with people in these situations. Keep in mind that:
- Engaging with negative posts and articles gives the appearance that you aren’t working on resolving the issue.
- It can give negative press more attention.
- You often have more to lose in the exchange than the other person.
Everything your audience watches you say and do in relation to the crisis should be positive. In the public eye you should be providing helpful information, and working to resolve the issue. If you do choose to take action on anything you believe is unfair or libelous, that should be done in private, using your legal representative.
Technique #7: Customize Your Message According to Your Audience
Imagine that your company has had a data breach. That’s undeniably a crisis, and you’ve likely got several groups of people who have been impacted. There are:
- Customers who have had their personal or financial information accessed and used.
- Customers who must now change their passwords or take other steps to keep their information safe after the breach.
- Potential customers who are now questioning whether or not they should do business with you.
- Investors who may wonder how you are going to handle this.
Each of these groups is looking to you to communicate something a little bit different to reassure them that you are working on a resolution. You’ll want to send a different message to each, then decide if you should deliver that message privately, or through social media.
Technique #8: Make Sure Your Customer Facing Staff is Equipped to Deal With the Fallout
Whatever you do or say on social media to handle a crisis is going to earn a response. Not all of that response will come through your social media channels. There’s a good chance that your customer support staff, telephone centers, and brick and mortar staff are going to be inundated as well.
Make sure they have the resources they need. If you know you’re going to post a major update, boost your staffing over the next few days. Warn supervisors and floor staff of a likely, surge in questions or comments from customers.
Finally, make sure your systems are ready and will stay online for the duration. You don’t want to invite your customers to sign up for a refund or free gift, only to have your systems crash under the pressure.
Technique# 9: Put the Brakes on Content That Doesn’t Fit
There’s a common plot device in sitcoms. It involves most of the characters hearing some bad news, and reacting accordingly. Then, without missing a beat, the one character who isn’t up to speed enters the scene and says or does something terribly inappropriate for the moment.
If you aren’t careful, your content could have the same effect. Is your branding normally humorous and irreverent? Do you joke and tease your customers in your online exchanges? If so, it may be time to reconsider your content for the time being. If you’ve got some content queued up, and ready to be auto-posted, better review it. Make sure it has the appropriate tone. The same goes for any recent posts. Get rid of anything that could be seen as being in poor taste. Hold off on posts that aren’t appropriate for the situation.
Technique #10: Do a Post-Mortem and Make Changes Accordingly
No business wants to face a PR crisis. However, when one happens, it can be a valuable learning experience. The key is reviewing what happened, collecting data on the results, then making any changes needed to better handle any crisis that might happen in the future.
You already use your digital marketing channels to reach your customers. You work to build relationships with them, earn their trust, and establish yourself as a company worthy of doing business with. You can use these same channels, along with the techniques listed here to communicate with your audience during a crisis.