When you think of "crisis management", it tends to conjure images of highly paid public relations experts controlling everything from from what color tie an executive wears to the specific words used in a carefully vetted press release, all in an effort to control "the message." Just because this feels like something only a Fortune 500, blue chip stock type of company would do, doesn't mean every company, even smaller or less traditional ones, don't need to think about how to handle an organizational crisis, even one on a small scale. With the expanding importance of social media in business, your online presence can both create and solve some of these crises. Here are five tips for weathering the storm.
Tip 1: Tell the truth, and tell it IMMEDIATELY.
The internet moves incredibly quickly, and whether it's an ill-advised Facebook post or a failed product launch, you and the entire organization you're a part of don't have a lot of time to waste in addressing a problem. Too often companies try to wait and see if something will just blow over before they address it. While understandable, all this ultimately serves to do is undermine the sincerity of whatever statement is eventually made, because of the perception that the company only said something once forced. Better to make a statement as soon as you have sufficient information and be ahead of the rumor mill than to wait and be forced into a reactionary position.
Tip 2: Don't delete things.
If a badly chosen social media post manages to get through, or a statement is made and then turns out to be incorrect as you get more information, the temptation can be to just delete it. The thing to remember is that on the internet, nothing is really deleted. People have tabs still open with the original post, screen shots will go around, people will find cached versions of edited pages — once that information is out there it is out there for good. This goes for both potentially problematic posts made by the company and deletion of critical comments or questions by customers. Now, that's not to say that you should never delete something. If, for example, an offensive post is made to a company social media account, that absolutely should be deleted as quickly as possible before it can spread further and offend more people. What you can't do is delete it and think that alone solves the problem. The deletion must be accompanied by a statement, which leads us to our next tip.
Tip 3: Apologize clearly and sincerely.
In the previous example of an offensive post on a company social media account, the deletion is a good first step, but it simply must be accompanied by an apology. Fundamentally, an apology is always a good step and, if delivered well, will rarely go amiss even if not strictly required. The absolute key with an apology is to show a clear understanding of what it is you're apologizing for in the first place. If the only apology you can come up with is something in the "we're sorry you were offended" range, you're almost better off just taking your lumps and not bothering at all. The apology must own the actions that caused the problem, show an understanding of the consequences, and offer assurances that the problem will not be repeated, preferably in the form of as specific a plan as is possible.
Tip 4: Present a clear and consistent message.
In times of any type of crisis or social media firestorm, it becomes that much more important that anyone making statements on behalf of the company — whether through official mainstream media channels, press releases, or social media accounts — has a consistent sense of the company voice. The last thing you want is to have a well-made apology and solution undermined by contradictory statements coming from different media channels. As casual as social media can feel, it is every bit as official as a press release or other statement, and the messages delivered via social media need just as much attention during a sensitive time.
Tip 5: Ride it out.
If you find yourself in the midst of a firestorm, your biggest asset is going to be patience. There may be lingering questions or upset even after you and the company have apologized and offered whatever kind of remedy is appropriate and necessary given the situation, and you'll need to be especially aware of not seeming frustrated or short-tempered as the situation runs its course. If you've done everything you think you can to fix the situation and there are still unhappy people, it's understandable for you to feel picked on or frustrated, but it's important to remember that you're still on the defensive. For better or worse, you're in the situation because someone in your organization made a mistake, and you just have to take your lumps. Be gracious and ride it out as calmly as you can, and as they say, this too shall pass.
We hope you avoid these unpleasant crises but, in the somewhat inevitable event that you find yourself stuck in one, we hope these tips can point you in the right direction to getting through it as unscathed as possible. Feel free to share your business crisis battle scars in the comments!