Your company has just made the news and not in the way you want. A customer’s complaint on social media has gathered so much attention it’s ranking at the top of your search results. There’s been an internet outage or a systems breakdown. Facebook is filled with clamouring customers demanding to know what’s going on. A data breach has just become public and every client who’s ever turned over financial information to you wants to know if it’s safe.
These are all crisis situations that demand a thoughtful, nuanced response, something that will help control the damage, not create another, bigger controversy. Crisis communication is a delicate balance between accurate information sharing, empathising with customers, and showing that the company is competent enough to handle the situation and set things right. It’s possible to move past the crisis with little or no damage to the company’s reputation, but there are numerous pitfalls to avoid, mistakes that could hurt the company or even threaten its survival.
To ensure that your next crisis doesn’t become a calamity, try to avoid these eight mistakes:
- Lack of Planning – When a crisis becomes public, employees are naturally stressed and anxious. This is the worst time to plan an effective strategy for managing it. Every company should brainstorm potential crisis scenarios before they happen and make a plan for how each situation can be dealt with effectively.
- Failure to Take Responsibility – Companies sometimes try to slide through a crisis with a noncommittal response that doesn’t assign blame. In the very early stages, a general ‘we are looking into the issue’ statement may be appropriate, but it should be followed by a more detailed response as soon possible. This should come personally from the CEO or another high-level executive, and it should acknowledge specifically what the company did wrong as well as what is being done to make amends and ensure this particular problem doesn’t happen again. A sincere admission that ‘we should have done better’ is much more effective than an equivocal attempt to save face and pretend the company’s systems worked the way they were intended.
- Misidentify the Audience – Customer communication is important of course, but remember there are other stakeholders. Take the time to reassure investors with a statement geared towards their particular concerns.
- Lack of Coordination Among Employees – It’s also important to keep employees in the loop. There’s nothing more dangerous than a well-intentioned employee talking to the media with responses that are at odds with official company policy. This will undermine everyone’s credibility and make the brand’s public statement appear insincere. Keep employees informed about what is happening with the crisis, and, as far as possible, ensure that only PR professionals communicate with the media.
- Deleting Comments – It’s tempting to delete negative comments, but this is never a good idea. Social media pages are a place where customers expect to share their opinion. If a comment is taken down, the writer will only become angrier and he or she will find somewhere else to express their feelings.
- Failure to Present a Personal Face – Written statements are effective, but they don’t replace face-to-face communication. A crisis management plan should designate a competent PR professional who will appear personally on local media and become the public face of the crisis.
- Mishandling Media – In a crisis situation, the media becomes both your best friend and your worst enemy. Ignoring the media is a mistake, since it will appear you have something to hide. On the other hand, journalists have a vested interest in creating sensational headlines that will attract clicks and likes. They will twist whatever you have to say to highlight its inconsistencies. Short appearances that stick closely to the company’s official statement are more effective than in-depth interviews. It’s important to appear sincere, without actually sharing every detail of what goes on behind-the-scenes. Remember that telling the truth doesn’t ensure a journalist won’t take your statement out of context to create a sensational headline.
- Assuming You’ll Win Because You’re Right – The assumption that truth will out doesn’t necessarily hold in today’s internet-centred world. The story that’s shared the most is the one that will be acquire the most validity, and to ensure this is the company’s perspective you need to be both accurate and proactive. Make sure there are no facts or details that can be proven wrong, then share your story on as many platforms as possible. People researching about the company are going to hear about the crisis, at least for a while, and you want to make sure it’s your version of events they read.
Ongoing reputation management can help prevent PR crises and minimise the damage after they occur.Download our eBook below to learn more.