For companies, bad press has always been a known enemy. In the past, there were angry customer letters, stories on the nightly news, or critical articles in magazines or newspapers. The one advantage that companies have enjoyed until recently in these scenarios was the luxury of time. There was time to see the problem, time to address it, time to craft a response, and time to get the response out there. Today, with the 24/7 news cycle and the online world that is always “on,” that luxury of time has disappeared. Before you even realize what is happening, a video negatively portraying your company could go viral. A tweet could be shared and spread like wildfire. A blog post blasting your new product could take over the online world. These are worst case scenarios, but they are possible in today’s world.
Today, there are two kinds of crises that a brand can experience. There are PR crises and there are social media crises. Sometimes a social media crisis can evolve (or devolve) into a real PR crisis, and often a PR crisis can impact a company’s social media presence. However, an actual PR crisis is usually considered to be more significant than a social media crisis, which could be a negative tweet, a negative blog post, or negative feedback on a Facebook page.
As has always been the case for as long as businesses have existed, the best way to prevent any kind of brand crisis is to make sure that your products and services, your customer service, and all parts of your business appear to run flawlessly and with no difficulties. Barring that, however, the best way to enable your company to handle any kind of crisis to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. This is true whether or not your company is currently using social media for any part of your business operations. Here are some steps you can follow to make that happen.
Make sure everyone in your company understands your brand
Sometimes social media crises in particular arise because an employee acts in a way that is incongruous with your brand. Make sure that your HR department understands your brand and your culture so that you can bring in people who will meld well with your company’s culture. Also make sure that everyone is on board with how your company will be represented in any kind of public forum, whether that is a social media platform or a trade show. Your company should have a single voice, and any employee needs to be able to access that voice. This will also come in handy should a crisis occur because everyone will know how to react and what tonality to use.
Create a crisis communications plan
There are two excellent books that can help you with this process. The first is a book called Social Media Crisis Communications (not an affiliate link) by Ann Marie van den Hurk. Although the title accentuates social media, in reality the book covers everything you need to know about setting up a crisis communications plan. The book then offers information on how you can integrate social media into that communications plan if you wish.
The second book that can help you with this process is Olivier Blanchard’s Social Media ROI (not an affiliate link). This book focuses more on how to set up your company’s personnel to be able to handle both a crisis and your social media communications.
Your crisis communications plan should cover all potential scenarios so that when a crisis does occur, you do not have to think about who should do what when. Everything will already be scripted out. Your company could even hold an occasional “fire drill” to make sure everyone understands the process thoroughly. You can never be too prepared.
Watch other companies to see what to do, and what not to do
The books mentioned above offer good examples of what to do (and what not to do) in the face of a crisis. For a first-person account of how to handle a major PR crisis, I’d recommend you give Social Media Strategist (not an affiliate link) by Christopher Barger a read. Barger was on the front lines when GM had to declare bankruptcy a few years back. While his book offers a lot of general pointers as well, reading about his experiences in that very tense situation can be very instructive for your company.
Unfortunately, today, we have to assume that at some point our companies will face a crisis of some kind. Preparation makes this potential seem far less frightening. Knowing your company will be able to deal with what comes your way offers you great power.
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hoha/4646842373 via Creative Commons