Crises are inevitable. In the internet age, everyone has access to social media and can communicate with the rest of the world in seconds. This hyperconnectivity means that all news is global news. Workplaces must appreciate that small issues that may have gone unnoticed in the past are now exposed to potential levels of scrutiny that many businesses have never experienced before. One Tweet can push an entire corporation into the public spotlight, for better or for worse.
This era of accountability, while nerve-racking for PR teams, also poses a great opportunity for brands to present their values to their customers. A well-managed crisis can even help enhance a brand’s reputation. On the other hand, a poor response can sometimes be more catastrophic than the initial crisis itself.
Odds are, every business is bound to experience a PR crisis at some point. When it happens, here are some tips for how to handle it:
Your employees are your greatest advocates. They are the men and women who interact with your customers every day and represent you out in the world. Yet, during a crisis, brands often make the mistake of leaving their employees out of the conversation. By connecting with your employees early, you ensure that your whole team is on the same page. Let them know what has happened, how you will approach mending the situation, and where your company’s values lie. Your employees can better support you if they feel included, valued, and aware.
When faced with a crisis, the worst thing you can do is ignore it. The story will move forward with or without you, and it’s best be an active participant in the narrative. If you know there is a scandal brewing, address it before someone else can break the news. This will make you look honest and proactive while also averting the possibility that some other outlet will expose you. If, however, you find yourself at the center of a crisis due to external reporting, don’t wait too long to respond. In the time it takes you to conduct your own independent fact checking, your customers will be reacting to the details they see online. Keeping quiet for too long may give the impression that you don’t find the issue worth addressing, potentially characterizing you as dismissive or out of touch. Instead, take this opportunity to connect with people honestly. If this issue is important to them, it should be important to you, too.
Your customers know when you are being sincere. In the online courtroom that is Twitter, people will decide very quickly whether or not they are willing to hear you. Your first response is your most important statement because it’s the one people will be anticipating. Try to be transparent and empathetic in your first response. Let people know that you hear them and you are committed to making things right. Offer actionable steps then follow through.
You must take stock of where your approval was before the crisis in order to accurately determine when or if you have returned to some type of normal. Perhaps you will never get back to the place you were before a crisis hit. That’s okay. Turn crises into opportunities to grow and shift in relation to changing public and internal values. We all make mistakes and we can all stand to learn something new.
More than anything, you need to know what people are saying about you online and what they need. Keep track of relevant conversations all the time, not just during a crisis. What are the livewire topics at the moment? What are the relevant conversations and do those conversations relate to your industry? Where are you vulnerable? Ask these questions often to ensure you are keeping abreast of what people are saying about you. While it may be hard to absorb, even negative feedback is useful. If you employ active social listening, you are more likely to anticipate a PR storm brewing on the horizon and can better prepare before it hits.
Crises will occur and they will be hard. You should always be preparing for potential crisis scenarios. Set up a team or multiple teams to continually anticipate and train for PR crisis situations. The more you do to get ready, the better you will be able to weather the storm.
Brands shouldn’t fear crises. In fact, following planned crisis management steps can actually strengthen a brand’s image. As long as you are honest, proactive and quick to respond, there is no reason why a crisis should become a catastrophe. If you’d like an agency at your side during a crisis, contact Mulberry today.
Michael White is the Head of Copy at Mulberry Marketing Communications, an award-winning full-service B2B communications agency based in Chicago, London and Australia. He has many years of experience writing and editing short- and long-form content for B2B and B2C audiences.