When you’ve spent years carefully manicuring your brand’s public image, nothing is more upsetting than a nasty rumor, reputation crisis, or an unexpected event that the social media sphere finds out about before you do. Waking up to Twitter talking about a health code violation, stray delivery drone, or employee scandal is horrifying. To respond to it correctly, you need to keep a cool head and dispatch damage control as early as possible. Whether the disaster also requires logistics correction or if it’s purely a public relations crisis, your responses should be tailored to your audience but the steps will be the same.
The first step to any public relations crisis is to find out what’s going on and build a plan to handle the situation. It’s important to understand that a public relations crisis could be almost anything. It doesn’t even have to be a recent event. A crisis can be anything from a disaster that happened in the night to an ecological group deciding that one of your long-standing business practices is objectionable today. How you deal with it internally should be determined by the actual situation. Your strategy with the public will take roughly the same form, especially as you are finding out the entire scope of the crisis, what is being said about it, and getting your plan together before any promises or assurances are made.
The moment you have a clear idea of the issue, form your public statement. Acknowledge to your public that something is wrong and you’re looking into it. The best response for an event that happened overnight is to admit that you’re as surprised as the public is. Whether it’s an arrest, accident, or scandal, most people will find it easy to understand if the company did not know about the activities, intentional or unintentional, of a single employee. For objections to your practices, acknowledge that you’ve heard the public’s objections and are listening. This opens the door to concessions later and an attitude that you have always been willing to conform, no matter what your final response may be.
Rumors spread like fires and when something is fun to talk about, it spreads even faster. The best way to control the spread of uncontrolled opinions and add your brand as intentional central participants is to start in the place the rumors started. Put out your first response statement in the same forum or social media platform as the original poster if you can find them. In some situations, it can be beneficial to directly respond to the original poster. Opening a dialogue that becomes part of the rumor story can act as an update to the initial rumor. This way, everyone who heard from the source will also hear from you.
Once you’ve started at the source, you want to be able to talk to each individual community again. Re-task your social media management team to monitor keywords surrounding the public relations crisis and respond to people talking about it. However, the public side is only half of what you should be working on through multiple social media platforms. Monitoring the chatter in many cases is the best way to get information about the issue early. When curious gossipers do their own research and share it with each other, often using a set of related hashtags, you can get the clues as quickly as they do.
The best possible result of damage control in a public relations crisis is to make sure that your brand is the primary source of information. This means sharing information you find and keeping the public informed on the situation. Many of the most avid independent investigators will relax if they see that the company is dedicated to the situation. Especially if you are sharing progress like a news story for the curious public. You get the opportunity to control the tone and content of the story. You can decide what is worthy of privacy, while giving the public the details they desire.
One of the best ways to do this is to create a crisis FAQ where everyone from the passingly curious to the passionately opinionated can spend some time reading up on answers to the questions you’ve seen thrown around the most. There are two ways to generate questions for your FAQ to answer. The first are the questions everyone is asking. These you should give your honest answers to, including if you don’t know the answer but are looking into it. Honesty is valued and people will appreciate your updates when you do find a better answer.
The second way to generate FAQ questions are the answers you want the public to have. Sometimes facts come up that reveal a whole new piece of the puzzle. Or a question-answer set can put the events into perspective. This is your opportunity to carefully inform the public and satisfy their curiosity at the same time.
Finally, don’t be shy about asking for forgiveness. For not knowing about a rogue employee, or not realizing how environmentally harmful a decades-old business policy was. Apologize to the public and ask for their forgiveness. This acknowledges that you share their values and puts the audience in the position of theoretical power.
Once you have asked for forgiveness, simply maintain the channels of communication and keep the public informed. When you do make a real internal response plan, share the parts that interest the public. Handle the rest as privately as you care to. Once the interest dies down, the private lives of your employees or inner workings of your business process won’t matter again. For more social media management tips, contact us today.