Once, you could rely on the probability that even if your business received negative press today, by tomorrow, that same “news” would be lining birdcages and filling recycling bins. Even the most negative publicity eventually disappeared from common knowledge, and your business was easily able to recover.
Unfortunately, in today’s digital society, information is stored permanently.
One bad review can quickly snowball, leaving all of your fans with a bad taste in their mouths when they think about your business — and unfortunately, these days, everyone is a digital detective, which means that customers will bring up those old reviews and news stories for years to come.
If you’re in the middle of a PR crisis, it’s important that you handle it correctly.BLOG: Crisis Management Solutions for Digital PR Situations #CrisisManagement #DigitalPR Click To Tweet
Step One: Don’t Ignore the Crisis
Sometimes, as in the case of the United passenger who was removed forcefully from his overbooked flight, you get plenty of time to see a crisis coming. Maybe you know that there’s a customer who’s recently had an extremely bad experience with your store, even if it’s through no fault of your own.
An entire bus full of kids showed up at your location, expecting to enjoy a field trip, but you didn’t have them on the schedule.
A delivery was delayed repeatedly, and when it finally arrived, it contained the wrong items. Perhaps you’ve had a customer who had an extremely negative experience with one of your associates, and they made sure to let everyone know about it on the way out.
If you know that there’s a PR nightmare on its way to you, especially if there were several witnesses to the event, don’t wait for the mess to hit the fan before you start dealing with it! The sooner you can get ahead of the story, the better the odds that you’ll be able to control public opinion.
If you are blindsided by a sudden PR nightmare — a negative situation that, for whatever reason, you didn’t know about — don’t bury your head in the sand and hope it will go away.
The customer you offended might not be possible to calm completely, but other customers are watching to see how you handle this mess. The first step in PR crisis management is acknowledging that there’s a problem. This might include:
- Leaving negative reviews and posts on your social media page.
- Responding to bad comments, reviews, and posts as quickly as possible.
- Endeavouring to contact the offended individual privately as soon as you can.
- Quickly developing a strategy for responding to the growing crisis.
Step Two: Communicate
When it comes to a social media crisis, you have little choice but to let the conversation happen.
Social media is designed to give people the freedom to share their lives with one another. Often, that means that it’s an excellent platform for venting feelings that they might not express in person.
Create a strong policy for communicating with people ranting on social media well ahead of time, including several key tips.
- Keep communications short and sweet. Neither the offended party nor the customers watching the dispute are going to read lengthy responses–and they aren’t really looking for them.
- Don’t argue with people online, especially in a back-and-forth discussion. Provide a phone number or email address where they can contact you off of social media to get the problem resolved.
- Respond to positive and negative comments equally. Ignoring the comments you don’t like, is a sure-fire way to escalate the situation.
Communication about the crisis also needs to occur internally.
Don’t let employees, especially those who are responsible for some types of social media posting or management, be blindsided by the unfolding crisis.
Instead, take the time to communicate both what is going on and how the company plans to handle it to employees. Ask them not to engage or present a clear engagement strategy that will ensure that customers get the same message from any member of the company they speak with.
Step Three: Monitor the Conversation
As a crisis escalates, you need to monitor the conversation. It’s important that you know what’s being said about your company and who is saying it. While you should monitor social media conversations about your business on a regular basis, it’s even more important when you’re in the middle of a PR nightmare! Make sure that you’re:
- Checking any social media pages associated with your company regularly. This includes any posts you’ve made recently on your fan pages as well as posts that fans have made to you.
- Staying present in social media groups associated with your company. If you’re not a page admin, you don’t necessarily have to comment on the situation, but you should keep an eye on what people are saying.
- Following any hashtags associated with your company, your industry, or the crisis to check for negative feedback.
- Googling your company and information about the PR crisis to check blogs and other forums.
The more you know about what people are saying, the better and faster you can address the issue. This also allows you to understand what type of clean-up will be necessary later. Is the crisis big enough that it’s taking over the search engine results for your company? Is negative press spreading like wildfire?
If so, you may need to counteract it more thoroughly than if it is primarily limited to your social media pages.
Step Four: Answer Questions
Customers who have been watching your PR crisis unfold want answers, and they’ll keep looking until they get them.
Many people naturally want to know more when there’s drama going on. Others want to be sure that your brand is handling the situation responsibly before they decide whether or not they’re going to trust you in the future.
In order to quiet rumours and ensure that you’re controlling the facts, make sure that you’re the one providing the information. Create a pinned post in group pages, link to a blog post, or do whatever is necessary to answer key questions, including:
- What’s going on? You don’t have to provide all the sordid details, but you do need to offer enough information to quiet the crowds.
- What steps is your company taking to rectify the problem?
- How will you be dealing with this issue or preventing this issue moving forward?
- What changes is the company making as a result of the crisis?
You should also make sure that each employee of your company is prepared to answer those critical questions if necessary. Give them the tools to provide the same response the company is giving.
Step Five: Prepare for Next Time
Digital crises can hit at any moment. Your company has weathered one storm; how will it handle the next one? As you’re recovering from the aftermath of the PR crisis, take a moment to sit down with your team.
Ask three questions:
- What did we do well?
- What didn’t work as well as we’d hoped?
- What should we do differently next time?
Take the time to go over each stage of the plan. In some cases, it may be that a particular stage of your crisis response plan didn’t go as well as you’d hoped due to specific circumstances beyond your control.
In other cases, you may have learned something from how customers responded to your efforts and need to make changes to your plan for the future.
By developing a stronger crisis response strategy, however, you can help control how many customers view your business.
If you need more help handling PR crises on social media, contact us today to learn how we can help.