Times of trouble can befall any company, no matter how painstakingly that business measured each and every action as they paved their way towards success.
Stating the obvious, many aspects of day-to-day business are conducted online. Unfortunately, the Internet can greatly increase the chance of a company encountering a wobbly faux pas or something more intense in nature. When it comes to a company coming into the public eye with negative press, whether that is a disgruntled airline passenger venting on Twitter, the use of social media for an employees’ illegal behavior, or even scandal that can occur through a simple email exchange, the reality of modern day life quite simply means there are certain aspects of business that can no longer be controlled.
The sheer volume of exchanges on the Internet can no longer be controlled. You have to let that go. You cannot predict what any individual will say, do, or post, ever. The sooner you let that go, the sooner you can focus on how you can assist your company in the case of an unexpected issue arising that will need to be attended to promptly. And as we will get to later, time is most certainly of the essence in these situations and scenarios. Both building and sustaining a positive corporate reputation stems from how behavior is handled online and how to respond to negative press and situations in a timely manner.
Ensure your corporate strategy for dealing with crisis includes each of these seven items.
Keeping the idea of the snake always in your periphery gives you some idea of if, and when, it may strike. Have a plan in place for how employees at the front line will respond. Craft these initial messages with an appropriate level of detail and care, that way this heavy thinking will not have to be done at the moment of need, when time is of the essence.
- Use time wisely.
Craft appropriate verbiage ahead of time to a wide range of scenarios that may be applicable in your line of business. This way, if a situation does arise, you already have a game plan of how you will respond. Time is of the essence in dealing with either a single difficult customer or an industry-wide disaster.
- Assemble a unified team.
Mark Nowlan, senior vice president of marketing and communications at PR Newswire has years of experience in regards to strategic communications and crisis communications. He suggests having a crisis communication team in place who are all aware of their duties, should the time come for them to assume their role. He says, “If you’re a larger business, this team should consist of senior management, legal and communications advisors. For smaller businesses, this team may simply consist of you and a PR advisor and lawyer you’ve established a relationship with and can call on a moment’s notice.” Keep the message streamlined by only allowing these individuals within these select teams to facilitate communications, both internally through the organization and externally to the outside world.
- Prep for Q&A.
Similar to prepping for possible scenarios via computers, emails, and sending out a mass exchange, practice being interviewed. Have a trusted employee ask you (or another individual from the communications team) the most difficult questions that could come from the line of reporters or news outlets so you can have an idea of what exactly you will say when speaking to the public. Keep these answers similar in language to how you have prepped your timely responses to stay both on brand and on message. Make sure you get across all necessary information without sharing too many extraneous details.
- Single out the spokesperson.
Choosing the right spokesperson can make or break how the public views the company in a time of crisis. This person may or may not be the president or the CEO, but whoever it is, make sure they have been through proper training and they understand just how to get across the mission of the company correctly to the media. Emergency situations can take everyone off balance, so ensure this spokesperson is capable of talking well and thinking quickly on his or her feet.
- Plan for what to do when the crisis comes from within.
As we witnessed recently with the disgruntled Twitter employee contractor who deleted President’s Trump account on their last day of work (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/03/technology/trump-twitter-deleted.html), trouble may not always stem from the outside. What happens when the trouble stems from an individual internally? After a flurry of questions, inquiries, and a healthy amount of wading through their own disbelief, Twitter confronted the situation head-on. They released a statement immediately stating that they were looking into the matter and continued to update the public as soon as the Twitter account belonging to the President was back up and running.
Of course, each situation will be different, but being open and honest is the best policy. If your corporation is under heavy scrutiny and the only response the public is aware of is, “No comment,” the public may begin to lose trust in your brand. The public may begin to think your corporation has something to hide.
- Have a hot line in place.
Having an employee hotline service in place offers employees means of communicating securely when they witness fraud, waste, abuse, harassment or any other situation they may be uncomfortable with and would like to report. Make sure employees know about this hotline, which can be a valuable resource for both the employees and the company. Place information about the hotline in common areas and include a mandatory briefing about the hotline during each new employee’s orientation. You are better off catching problems while they are small and before they are public!
Through these proactive steps, your organization’s reputation is more likely to be protected.