How should brands handle PR crises at a time when news spreads faster than ever?
There are multiple steps when a PR crisis occurs, and while it might be stressful, our helpful guidelines can set your brand straight quickly.
As much as we try to keep our business in the public eye, sometimes we enter it for the wrong reasons. Public relations issues happen to every brand. After all, we're only humans behind our brand. There are multiple steps when a PR crisis occurs, and while it might be stressful, our helpful guidelines can set your brand straight quickly.
In today's digital era, news, especially negative, spreads at lightning speed. Brands must be agile and proactive in their response to PR crises. Key strategies include:
Silence can often be perceived as indifference or guilt. You might be thinking "But I can't solve a problem that quick!". Fortunately, acknowledging that there is a problem doesn't mean you need to already have the solution.
Quickly let your customers know what's going on from the beginning, and apologize if anyone was affected. This is effective for two reasons. One, customers who hear from somewhere else about an issue will immediately look up your business, and seeing an acknowledgment will allow them to get the facts from your brand before looking up potentially false information. Customers who haven't seen the news yet will get to hear it first from you so they aren't swayed by any particularly intense articles. Whether they heard it first somewhere else or from your brand, a quick response makes them aware that your company is sorry and trying to make things right.
Honesty is paramount. Admit mistakes, provide clear information, and avoid cover-ups. The truth is, something happened that is causing a problem. Whether or not your brand meant to cause harm, people are hurt, and they want to know what you’re going to say about it. Denying that a mistake was made discredits everyone who has been affected. Part of acknowledgment includes saying the mistakes you are apologizing for. Removing part of the story, or worse lying, will tell people you know you did wrong and are trying to avoid it. Also, keeping holes in your story leaves ample room for any articles or posts written to fill in the blanks with potentially untrue information.
Transparency can also reveal to the public that this was a true mistake. Let's take the example of something being wrong with a batch of your product. Hiding the mistake might make people think you were purposefully trying to sell a bad or misrepresented product. They might also think you were trying to cut costs by removing safety measures. Owning up to a problem and revealing what went wrong lets them know it was truly just a machine error and that you take pride in giving a good product.
Show genuine concern for those affected. A public statement to anyone affected goes miles, but a personal message to those people goes even further. While you shouldn’t reach out to the individuals affected purely to garner a good image, there is always the possibility they will post your private message and thank you. On the flip side, if you have a nice public response but refuse to work with the victims of your PR crisis, they might also post that lack of actual empathy. Whether your brand is big or small, sometimes the internet forgets there are people behind the screens. Showing empathy and giving a heartfelt response will humanize your brand.
Clearly communicate the steps you're taking to resolve the issue and ensure it doesn't recur. These steps are going to look different based on what the issue is. If your brand made an accidentally insensitive statement toward a particular group of people, then an action plan might include continued education. A brand that has a problem with their product will want to mention how they are going to recall that item and change their process so the problem doesn’t occur again. If any damages have occurred due to a brand, reparations should be part of the action plan. No matter what your action plan looks like, keep your customers in the loop. This adds to the second point, transparency. Solving problems takes time in the real world, make the digital world aware of that timeframe to prevent continued backlash.
Another “action plan” comes in the form of digital monitoring, which is discussed more below, and team training. This is an action plan that your team has if they notice an error has occurred or that a potential PR crisis is brewing. It gives your staff clear lines of communication so they know who to tell if they see an issue. It can also speed up your brand's response time, solving the problem quickly.
Using tools to monitor online conversations, allows for real-time response and for you to gauge public sentiment. Not only can this help you catch a potential blunder quickly, but it can also prevent you from making one completely. Keeping up to date on what people are saying about your niche or other competitors means you know what people like and don’t like. Also, having an eye on major news stories that relate to your brand can prevent some PR problems. Sometimes customers want brands to make a response regarding other news in the industry and might see your lack of knowing as a lack of caring. That’s why keeping a finger on the pulse so to speak, can prevent a PR crisis before it happens.
When it is your brand in the hot seat, a quick response can make all the difference. News can go viral in a matter of hours, meaning more eyes on you and your response. People want answers just as fast as they get their headlines. Taking too much time leaves more time for comments articles and posts to pile up that you now have to respond to.
In essence, the rapid pace of digital communication demands that brands be equally quick, sincere, and strategic in their crisis management approach.