In these turbulant times, crisis management is now as important as ever. The increase in communications media, especially online channels, is beginning to take centre stage to effectively manage a crisis. The best example is social media due to the close interaction it creates between a business and its customers. This is why it is imperative that a company includes an online communications strategy in its crisis management plan and ensures that it is fully prepared in case the need arises.
A PR crisis is not only made worse from communication errors made by the company itself, but it can also be amplified by dissatisfied customers who are often quick to use the Internet and social networks to communicate their discontent. However, a PR crisis doesn’t always have result negatively. If we know how to manage a crisis correctly, we can even come out stronger than when we started, but of course, for that we need to know exactly how to act and be quick in responding before it can do any long-term damage to the reputation of our company.
Crisis management using social media
Nowadays, the majority of PR crisis’ can be resolved through the use of social media networks. The first PR crisis of 2015 didn’t waste any time at all! The error was committed by one of the most popular regional Spanish TV channels, Canal Sur, during the tolling of New Year bells, which were rudely interrupted half way through by an advertisement broadcast. Right from the beginning, the organisation quickly emitted a statement taking responsibility for the error, apologising (something that for some reason companies find difficult to do and therefore doesn’t happen very often), and assuring that an enquiry will be opened to further investigate what had happened. Shortly after, their first posts went viral and created some trending topics on Twitter – #UvasInterruptus (‘interrupted grapes’, that are usually eaten on each bell toll) and #CanalSur. The next day they announced the resignation of Canal Sur’s Broadcast Continuity Director, José Luis Pereñíguez, but they even took it one step further, as days after they produced a TV spot in which the Commercial Director of Canal Sur, Manual Casal, as well as the Director of the programme Andalucia Directo, Modesto Barragán, making fun of the their own regions’ TV with the phrase ‘We cannot bring back the bells, but we can bring back your smile’. This exemplifies how a company can turn anger into a smile.
However, not all PR crisis’ are handled in such a successful way. Malaysia Airlines committed multiple errors in their attempt of handling the crisis of the missing flight MH370, which disappeared in the Indian Ocean on the 8th of March last year, profoundly damaging the company’s reputation. The main errors in managing the crisis were:
- Delay in releasing the first notification: it took around 5 hours to make the incident public, to the families as well as releasing the news to the general public.
- Lack of direct communication with the families involved: this was one of the worst errors. Instead of contacting the families directly, the company published a ‘black page’ on their website to provide information on who was missing to close relatives and the media channels.
- Lack of leadership: at the start, the representative that was chosen to stand up to the media was a low ranking manager instead of being the CEO of the company.
- Complete lack of tact or sensitivity in communicating the dead to the families: the company sent the notification by text message.
If we go back even further in time, we can find another clear example of what not to do at a moment of crisis. On the 17th march in 2010, Greenpeace published a report in which Nestlé affirmed that is was going to use palm oil originating from Indonesia within its its products, even though it was causing deforestation and destruction of the habitat of protected species such as the orangutan, as well as not complying to Indonesian law. Nestlé responded by denying the accusation, so Greenpeace launched a campaign in YouTube, Twitter and Facebook inviting Internet users to publish a modified Kit-Kat logo with the word Killer. Instead of trying to appease the situation, Nestlé managed to get YouTube to retract the video by alleging them of inappropriate use of their brand as well as threatened their fans on Facebook saying that if any users were found to have published the modified version of their logo, they would be kicked off the site. As you can imagine, their followers didn’t respond too well to this, which made the situation even worse.
As you have seen from these two examples, the reasons brands can fall into a crisis are two-fold:
- On the company’s side: lack of transparency, lying or trying to cover something up.
- On the customer’s side: complaints by customers on a product or service, account hacking, loss of control of social media accounts, or trolls—anonymous people that are committed to destroying a Brand by posting malicious and damaging comments in forums, blogs, social networks etc.
However, prevention is much better than cure, therefore in order to avoid a PR crisis from occurring, the following points should be considered:
- Make sure you have a presence in social networks. Although it may seem strange, there are still many companies that do not have a social media account to represent their business to these important communities. One example is Burger King, who not long ago suffered a PR crisis from a homophobic incident that occurred in one of its establishments. In spite of having more then 500,000 fans on Facebook, where they thought they could solve the problem, they didn’t actually have an account with Twitter, therefore when the crisis reached this particular social network they couldn’t do anything to control the situation.
- Have a crisis management plan in place, with clear specific guidelines such as target market, type of messages etc.
- Listen to your customers! All businesses need to learn how to listen to their customers in order to find out any problems that could potentially get out of hand, and what they want, in which case they can then take the necessary precautions, and act, rather than react.
- Quick response. The main factor is to respond to any complaint or criticism quickly and transparently and in the case that you were wrong, make sure you own up to it!
Thesedays we have more communications channels available to us than ever to allow businesses to interact with their customers and vice-versa, therefore there is no surprise that a PR crisis can flare up much more often.
It is clear that behind ever business there is a person and that we are all human beings, so sometimes we can make mistakes. However, what makes the difference is in the way that we resolve this issue, and how professional we act and respond at the moment a crisis occurs.