Every organization is likely to encounter reputational issues with differing degrees of seriousness in the world of social media, but the key to efficient crisis communications is remembering that information is power. Brands that are able to recover from a crisis with their reputations most intact are the ones who are most prepared for the very worst. In our social world, it’s critically important to detect a crisis early in order to mitigate its impact.
According to research by Nielsen, 53 percent of adults follow particular brands online and 60 percent of users of social networking sites write reviews of products and services.
The rapid growth of social networks in the last few years has determined a power shift from brands to customers, who now have unprecedented freedom to express their views online.
Tackling a crisis, especially in the online environment, where information spreads at the speed of light, has been a massive challenge for organizations. The companies that have been able to adapt quickly, differentiate facts from rumours in real time, assess the situation and act upon it in a timely manner, are the ones demonstrating excellence in online customer service and reputation management.
The best way to deal with reputational issues is to do everything in your power to prevent them from occurring in the first place. But as that isn’t always achievable, identifying a crisis at an early stage can have a strong influence on the final outcome and your ability to solve it successfully. So, one of the key ingredients to a healthy approach towards a crisis is definitely speed of reaction and a clear, honest, transparent answer.
Let’s look at a few steps that could help turn online complaints into a boosted online reputation and positive publicity:
1. Act Quickly
Although it’s tempting to hold back until you’re sure you understand exactly what’s happened and who’s to blame (as your lawyers might counsel), those impacted by the crisis want answers fast. Better by far that your company provides those answers before anyone else. Assess the seriousness of the issue and respond to anyone directly affected by the crisis first. The tenets of any crisis communication are to be proactive, be transparent, and be accountable. Acknowledge the incident, accept responsibility, and apologize.
2. Take Charge
The attitude should be that your company will manage the crisis, rather than allowing it to control the company. There are risks associated with both being prompt and being tardy with your responses. Move as fast as possible, rather than waiting for more information to come in before you act.
3. Handle Reality
First off, don’t try to cover up the PR crisis, it will only worsen the damage. Instead, manage the situation by taking responsibility, reacting immediately, and responding to feedback. Instead of arguing publicly, acknowledge people’s concerns and questions and respond to the right conversations. It’s important to deal with the real facts. Social media makes it easy for whistle-blowers to reveal the truth as they see it. ‘Fess up to what’s really happening and don’t attempt to maintain a charade that could collapse at any time.
4. Engage the Nay-sayers
When you follow the previous steps, you can deal directly with any critics you have. Old-style PR often suggested laying low until the heat blew over. Because the Internet gives visibility to critics, it’s much better to deal with criticism as it arises.
5. Spread the Word
Choose the most appropriate channels to communicate with your audience. To avoid any misconceptions or incorrect interpretations by others, your company should use all means at its disposal to communicate what has happened and what you are doing about it. This includes using your website, company blog, social media pages and media releases.
6. Remember to be human
Be genuine. Extending a heartfelt apology is the key to moving forward. Following a public apology, the company must offer a call to action. Saying that you are deeply saddened by what went down and will work on making things better is important. Then, immediately share how policies will be put in place so it doesn’t happen again. Act fast before people lose faith in your brand.
7. Encourage Dialogue
Any successful company will have defenders among its various stakeholders, including customers. Provide your supporters with an online space where they can express their views on what the company means to them and how they see the company’s response. By encouraging positive sources of information about your company, you ensure that good opinions can far outweigh any negative information that shows in searches.
8. Deliver on Your Word
At the heart of any crisis, there’s a real incident acting as a trigger. It’s important that your company ensure there are appropriate responses to that incident, and that outsiders acknowledge your company as handling the situation well. Consider using specialist support to prepare, identify and deal with the most sensitive situations.
Don’t wait until the threat to your reputation becomes visible. Events in a crisis move quickly online and only by preparing can you successfully defend your company’s reputation.
From a social and financial perspective, there are two reasons why it’s vital to master crisis detection and management:
- Increased risk and cost. A social media crisis can be a setback in two ways – first to consumers’ perception of your brand and then to your bottom line.
- Lost time. In crisis mode, every second counts and your brand’s reputation is at stake. Meanwhile, you’re stuck drafting individual social posts, figuring out who needs to sign off on what, and then trying to do hand-to-hand combat on multiple channels simultaneously with thousands of angry customers.
The time and money spent putting together a defence on social could better be spent on creative endeavours, new initiatives, and perfecting the customer experience. But when you’re knee-deep in crisis management, it’s all too easy to let tunnel vision take over.