Social media is like a microscope all companies have to surrender themselves to. Most of the time nothing that happens online, stays online. Major PR flops get picked up by traditional media or become a focus of the real-world discussions.
Before you know it, a not-so-well-thought-through tweet gets you an unwanted attention. All of a sudden, people become angry at companies for saying something insensitive and here is where the real nightmare begins.
Don’t post anything right away – think first
It’s tempting to start posting something right away, whether it’d be an apology, explanation or defense. Resist this urge and think first. If you’re in the midst of PR crisis, it’s better to avoid any kind of quick-judgement actions that can further put you in disadvantage. Gather as many team members as possible and discuss the best course of action. The more heads you can put together, the better. This will give you different perspectives on what happened and possible reasons for it as well as on how to handle it.
While you’re developing a crisis management plan, don’t keep people waiting. Post something along the lines of “working on it” to show an audience and all affected groups that you’re aware of what’s happening and you’re trying to get to the bottom of an issue before jumping to self-defense.
Don’t engage in negative conversations
While the crisis is happening, there will be people and groups who will be very vocal in blaming your company and attacking it as a whole and/or individual employees. It’s best to not engage in these conversations and ignore them to the best of your ability. Two reasons for it: First of all, you might say something that will further worsen your position. Remember: don’t post anything on the first thought of it.
You’re also running a risk of continuing this conversation and further angering those people. You’re asking to be put in more hot water. If you really feel the need to respond and don’t leave people hanging, post a well-developed short message along the lines of showing your appreciation for their concern and stating that you’re working on a solution. Try not to get too into details while situation is not completely clear. Finally, if messages your company receives are simply rude, defamatory and threatening, block those individuals, flag their comments and don’t even dare to respond.
Investigate and keep people updated
While you’re trying to share information with the outside world, your back-end needs to work hard on investigation. If causes of public outrage are not clear (or not completely clear), your team needs to get to the bottom of things. Was something done by an employee or an individual associated with business? What are the reasons for the behavior in question? What groups were affected by these actions? How can you make it better now?
If investigation takes longer than expected, keep your audience posted on the progress. Don’t share everything just yet, but let them know that you care and didn’t just let it “fix itself.” Oftentimes, when a company makes a sincere effort at fixing an issue, public is more understanding, tolerant and their anger doesn’t persist.
Explain what happened
When investigation is completed, share a picture of what happened. Share your stance. This is not to say that you need to present a situation in a favorable for you light, but most of the actions have some kind of logic behind them. Explain that logic and why things developed the way they did. Transparency can bring trust back.
If there is any fault on you (and there probably will be even if it’s minor), acknowledge mistake. It’s easier to apologize and move forward than to show your arrogance and lose customers and positive public perception. If you do acknowledge your mistake, try not to repeat in the future. Learn from this experience and become better. If a company has a whole history of the same type of offenses (or even different ones), it’s really difficult to gain any trust again; and slowly but surely a company can simply be dissolved.
Work on enhancing a positive image
Now that the crisis is quieting down, it’s time to highlight your positive attributes and enhance positive image. This can be done by fixing the mistake, helping out groups that were affected or just being a better part of your community in general. Yet, there is a fine line between trying to get back on track and enhance your positive image versus being overly-promotional and too active with PR efforts. Make it meaningful, not flashy.
Document processes, details for future
Once the crisis is over, make sure your team documents everything that happened in this particular situation, what measures were taken, what processes were developed. Create a crisis management plan for the future, if you don’t have one yet. This will help you be better prepared next time (if it will happen) and make you more resilient to crisis in the future.
Have you managed a crisis before? Do you have a well-documented plan in place in case it happens? Share in the comment section below.
Lesya Liu is a blogger at The Social Media Current (thesocialmediacurrent.com), a photographer and a social media expert. Her passion lies in art and marketing (and combining the two). You can find her on Twitter: @LesyaLiu.