What’s the Cause?
It seems like we see a new example of a marketing and/or PR blunder nearly every week. Could this be because companies are slowly becoming more careless with their marketing strategies? The answer in short: No. These marketing blunders are not caused by complete carelessness. While there should always be care in a marketing strategy most marketers know that no matter what you do you will not please everyone. However, because of the internet, and social media more specifically, those – previously – “small” blunders can be turned into a firestorm that becomes viral and puts the entire company into damage control.
The Wrong Kind of Viral
You just started an ad campaign or an employee who represents your company made a mistake that was caught on camera and now the internet is in an “off with their head” uproar. They start screaming words like “boycott” and even worse – more disgruntled customers start telling their stories. The media instantly joins in the hype with a frivolous amount of headlines and dissecting every single piece of evidence they can get their hands on. And, to put the icing on the cake the meme community ensures that your blunder will spread far and wide in a comical way. In the course of a few hours or, dare I say, minutes your company has achieved the wrong kind of viral publicity.
If there is one whole truth about the internet it is this: Once it is on the internet there is no getting it off. The damage has already started and no legal team or computer guru can remove the evidence from the internet. So, your only option is to begin damage control. Damage control is an art in which you combine the perfect mix of speed, control, and rational thought to address the public’s concerns, unearth the actual problem, fix the problem, and help restore your company’s reputation.
The first step is to remember that while time is of the essence, rushing to make a statement can add fuel to the fire instead of beginning the stages of extinguishing it. You need to respond fast and show that you are addressing the situation, beginning an investigation into what actually happened, building a team to begin working on a solution, and offering aid (if necessary) to those affected in the situation. What you DO NOT want to do is try and place blame on someone or something else. The public does not care if another company was involved and it was partially their fault and the public does not care that only part of the situation was recorded. What the public sees and cares about is that a “faceless” company has wronged an innocent customer just to make a couple dollars and this is the problem that needs to be addressed. In your first statement you need to assure the public that you are doing everything in your power to assess the situation and right any wrong that was done. Within a few hours/days you need to readdress the public to provide an update on details and give them a timeline of a solution.
You will also need to address your employees. Reassure your employees that you are looking into the situation, that you respect them and they are a valuable part in your company, and that their well-being as well as the customers’ well-being are first and foremost your priority. It is important that you make sure that all of your communications to employees reflect your communications to the public. When writing to your employees write as if that statement will be on the front page of the newspaper (because it very well might be). Following the first statement that you release you need to brief your social media team and send them into the trenches. I call it the trenches because the backlash they will be going up against is a reputational war zone – the face of the company is on their shoulders because in the age of social media the public expect responses almost immediately. All social media communications should reflect the general statement given by the company. Empathy and understanding are extremely important in this situation and “losing your cool” is out of the question. Treat each person’s legitimate concern like it is your concern and leave the trolls to their own folly.
The worst part about damage control is that it can take a long time. If you are not prepared it can seem like an insurmountable obstacle and then panic sets in. When people begin to panic the rational part of the brain shuts down and we run on adrenalin and emotion. This is a big no-no when it comes to damage control. So, the biggest bit of advice one can take is to plan ahead. While you cannot plan for individual occurrences, you can have a contingency plan for handling these types of situation. Having policies in place that outline who is in charge of what and when, taking the time to work with your social media team in damage control exercises, and generating a list of contacts to utilize to get your information to the press once you are ready to make a statement are all pieces of the framework that can reduce stress and speed up the process.
Play Smarter Not Harder
One little mistake can spread far and at the speed of light with the internet. Approaching the situation with a level head and at a relatively quick pace can alleviate some of the damage and begin re-setting the course of the ship. Be sure to address the public and your employees and begin a social media campaign to listen to and handle concerns. Having a contingency plan is possibly one of the best things you have in your arsenal in the event that something goes bad. Being prepared can allow you to focus on the actual problem rather than trying to build a plan from scratch all while trying to control the damage being done.
You can never be too prepared. If you need help developing strategies click here to speak with one of our experts.