Crisis communications have never been so important. In a world where people are attached to social media for an average of 2 hours 27 minutes each day, the scope for one negative comment or response to spiral into a full-blown PR crisis has never been higher.
While many in our industry claim there’s no such thing as bad publicity, the management of that press coverage is usually the determining factor in how a business moves forward from the apparent transgression and potential reputational impact.
Here, PR and Content Manager Patrick O’Kane dives into the Dos and Don’ts of the murky world of crisis communications, from avoiding Twitter arguments with keyboard warriors to whether you should take Ronan Keating’s advice on board – do you really say it best when you say nothing at all?
Create a crisis communications strategy
All businesses, particularly those operating a public-facing service, should have a strategy for any crisis or potential reputational risk. Think of it like your car insurance policy – it provides protection when it’s required, but is not needed to be called upon.
Prepare to fail
Even businesses with the most robust operational procedures have scope for things to go wrong. In fact, your reputation isn’t always in your own hands but implementing your crisis communications strategy will allow you to be prepared for any occasion, should your systems fall down.
Take time to think rationally
If something does go wrong, the natural reaction is to shut it down quickly, or counter any claims that are being made. Take time to understand what is happening. How should you respond – whether online to a tweet, or to a journalist who is planning to run a story/seeking comment – in a manner which helps resolve the issue or dampen the flames of reputational damage?
Consider the scenario at hand
If you do need to respond, take care in how you construct your response. Draft up two to three relevant responses in line with the scenario put before you. Your aim here is to reduce any risk to the company’s reputation.
Take the conversation offline
Should you and your team be at the forefront of a Twitterstorm, don’t fight punch with counterpunch. If a customer or member of the general public has a complaint, the worst thing you can do is offer an up-front excuse for any alleged inappropriate behaviour or misdemeanours. Instead, reach out to the person/people through DMs, where you can hopefully reduce their frustrations and resolve their concerns. Just make sure to let the recipient know you’ve dropped them a DM, because a lack of response will fall into the red flag zone!
The worst thing to do in the face of a crisis is jump in with both feet because of the damage being inflicted on your business or stakeholders. Reacting too quickly could add to your plight. Stay aligned to your strategy and follow the process – when forming your strategy, delegate personnel you want to liaise with to react to different scenarios accordingly.
Respond publicly on social media
There’s a time to talk and a time to stay silent. But Keating’s favourite lyrics are not a rule to fall on your sword for. Saying nothing is not always the best solution. Leaving social posts unanswered and hoping that the problem goes away runs the risk of showing you as a business that ‘doesn’t care’, ‘has no time for its clients’, and ‘has no plan to resolve disputes.’ That can only make your situation worse, rather than better. Each situation will warrant its own response.
Publish a “no comment” statement
It might seem like the best thing to do to buy you time on an evolving situation but saying ‘no comment’ can often be deemed as an admission of fault/guilt. Try to be as responsive as possible but being mindful not to exacerbate the situation. This might even be a statement to explain you are investigating what has happened, which instead buys you time to respond in a more considered manner.
Respond if you don’t need to
This will depend on the situation of course, but if your company or stakeholder is not named within any press activity/social media post, you have no need to respond. If you know it’s a project that involves you and could require a response, call your crisis communications hub into action to prepare a response. Should your company then be named in further cuttings, or is identified online, you will have a considered statement ready to issue. Definitely avoid bringing the crisis to your door.
Be afraid to challenge errant claims
Sometimes reports alleging something about your business or its employees will rear their head. Often challenging these claims can be tricky, but if you are 100% sure that the stated situation is incorrect or inaccurate, reach out to the journalist to put the story straight. This might be in the form of an official statement, but equally, it could just be an email, depending on the nature of the claims being made.
Every situation that requires crisis communications has scope to bring up a different requirement in whether you respond and the manner in which you do it. The key to all good reputational management is to work with your CEO, key stakeholders and your communications teams from the outset.
Build out a protective plan that you can engage as and when the situation requires it. And if you’re not sure where to turn to for advice, our door is always open. Chat to the team at firstname.lastname@example.org