Every brand and every company is potentially vulnerable to a crisis of some kind, and in today’s digital world, there is nowhere for brands to hide when something goes wrong. That’s why it’s critical to understand how to manage your brand at times of great pressure. From relatively minor issues to hugely serious, game-changing problems, you need to have an effective strategy in place. Whether it’s a personal scandal hitting one of your team, an awkward tweet, a faulty product or the ultimate catastrophe where customers have been injured or harmed, keeping a calm head will make all the difference to your recovery.
A crisis, by its very nature, normally arises without warning, but it is possible to plan ahead for some kinds of problems. Think now—while the sun shines—about how you and your team would respond to different kinds of incidents. If you can agree on various plans of action, you will be able to face the real crisis from a much better place. For all but the smallest of companies, it’s helpful, for example, to have some pre-approved, pre-drafted statements ready to suit different kinds of situations.
The First 24 Hours are Critical
When a crisis hits your brand, what you say and do in the first day is what counts, and what will be remembered, for better or for worse. As news spreads like wildfire across the online channels, you don’t have time to retreat to a bunker and hide.
You must act fast. However, it goes without saying to impulsive, knee jerk responses are not going to help. Stay calm, and gather the facts. Depending on the size of your company, this could take a few hours, but that’s better than issuing a statement and then later having to retract or amend it.
With facts identified, it’s time to admit to the problem and to apologize—sincerely. A brand crisis is not a time for grudging apologies, and it’s certainly not a time to lie or to try to hide the extent of the problem. Honest and open transparency matters more than ever at this point.
In the worst case scenario, where death or serious injury has occurred, it’s critical that you first show empathy and compassion for those involved.
In less serious incidents, a sincere apology should be followed by an outline of what you are doing in order to make sure the incident is not repeated. Don’t make promises you cannot keep, and do expect people to watch carefully to see if you keep your word.
Know When to Get Expert Help
In the most serious of crisis situations, you’re going to need external help, be that from lawyers, reputation managers, PR people or others. Don’t allow the situation to escalate out of control before you call in the experts; this will cost you far more in the long term, both in terms of paying these experts and in terms of your reputation with your customers.
Inform Your Customers
With your initial apology done and your action plan set out, it’s time to contact customers who may not be aware of what has happened. Should you do this? Well, yes, in most cases you should. Even if customers aren’t yet aware, they will be eventually, and will respect your brand far more if you are the ones to inform them. Furthermore, this allows you control over how they receive and process the information and opens up the opportunity to immediately spin it however you wish.
Choose whichever digital marketing channels makes sense to you, be that YouTube, email, social media, your website, or something else, and reach out to all of your customers with an explanation. Again, don’t forget to tell them what you are doing about the problem.
Monitor Reaction and Respond
During a brand crisis, you will need to invest considerable time during the first 48 hours into monitoring your customer reactions. This might mean responding to irate emails or social media posts, fielding phone calls and attempting to set the record straight where misinformation is flying about. It’s time and labor intensive, but it has to be done, otherwise your good work thus far in the crisis can so easily be undone.
Most non-catastrophic brand crisis incidents settle down relatively quickly, but for those customers directly involved the crisis will leave a lasting impression, which they will share with their associates. By following these simple crisis management tips, you can hopefully emerge from the crisis bruised, but with your longer term reputation intact.