Via Forbes : I will have more to say on this in the coming weeks. But in the meantime, here are basic tips for dealing with the aftermath of bad press.
In the age of social media and Internet everywhere, it’s easy to find companies scrambling to protect their image. For example, Pepsi recently pulled an ad that purportedly trivialized protest movements. After an avalanche of backlash, United Airlines moved to full-apology mode in response to the incident in which a doctor was dragged from a plane to provide a seat for United employees.
It is hard to think clearly when your reputation careens away from the runway. But whether the situation is big or small, these three tips can mitigate the risk of permanent damage in the court of public opinion.
Share the lessons you’ve learned. Mansal Denton is a serial entrepreneur and founder of Nootropedia, a database of information on nootropics (cognitive enhancing substances). If you Google Denton, the first result will likely illuminate a dark past, At age 23, Denton was sentenced to 8 years in prison for stealing historical artifacts when he was 19 years old. As the Google result suggests, it is unlikely he can hide from this high profile crime. But as the results also convey, Denton has become a bit of a public figure as he writes for Entrepreneur and HuffPost and has contributed to other publications. How did he navigate the move from prison convict to influencer? “It was an accident, really,” he explains. After publicly apologizing, which took his power back from detractors, he now speaks earnestly about the lessons he learned.
“With self-reflection, I realized my prior actions were the result of insecurities, emotional pain, and self-doubt,” he said. “Once I shared it with people, they could relate to those feelings of inadequacy and it created an interpersonal connection. Connecting with other people has been my greatest asset throughout the experience.”
Recognizing that mistakes are what make us human can be an asset in connecting with readers, but it’s not enough to simply acknowledge our flaws. Brands should also take responsibility for missteps and reflect through their actions that the needed lessons are learned.
Make the First Move. One of the most important lessons an online reputation management (ORM) expert will tell you is to make the first move. You should act instead of react. The majority of people who hire an ORM firm do so in reaction to something negative that suddenly appears in Google results. But the best time to focus on your online reputation is before a problem appears.
“Most people don’t realize how important their online footprint is until they have a problem,” says Ryan Erskine, Senior Brand Strategist at BrandYourself, a company that equips individuals and organizations to take control of their online presence. “It might be a scathing customer review, a sketchy forum, or a horrible press headline. We fix these results, but it can take months or even years, which can be a hard pill to swallow.”
Taking control of your reputation before a problem occurs is the most effective way to manage the first things customers and employees find on the web. Think of it as digital insurance. By developing a proactive strategy, you provide evidence of your reputation in advance, which gives viewers a better way to form a balanced and accurate opinion about you when a bad situation occurs. Here’s a statistic you shouldn’t ignore: Sixty-five percent of people consider online search the most trusted source of information about people and companies, which is higher than any other online or offline resource.
The principle of making the first move applies after a disaster as well. Companies fare best when leaders provide a direct and meaningful response within 24 hours of a disaster. This is not the time to go silent and hope the problem will “just go away.” In a disaster, an executive should consult with attorneys first to be sure they are aware and compliant with SEC, HR and privacy concerns they are required to uphold. Next they should quickly obtain PR counsel. Whatever happens next should keep the legal and PR concerns intertwined.
Learn from the mistakes of others. There’s good reason to read case studies about other companies’ hardest experiences as they provide valuable lessons. People are fallible and brands make mistakes. More than likely, we’re not the first to navigate a particular scenario. These stories provide insights on what to do, and even more importantly, what to avoid.
For example, consider American Airlines. On the heels of United’s nightmare, American and other airlines became targets of stories to illuminate the systemic issues caused by the practice of overbooking flights to ameliorate narrow margins. Shortly after the United debacle, an inpatient flight attendant snatched a stroller away from a passenger aggressively enough to reportedly hit the woman and infant. When another passenger confronted the attendant, an altercation ensued that was captured on video.
Learning from United’s mishandling, American quickly issued a statement that reflected empathy for customers in the situation: “What we see on this video does not reflect our values or how we care for our customers,” it said. “We are disappointed by these actions.”
In summary, these three steps 1) sharing the truth about a situation directly, 2) making the first move and 3) learning from the experience of others are powerful tools for your PR arsenal. In the heat of a crisis, don’t panic. Above all, remember that telling the truth and expressing genuine empathy for your customers and a willingness to learn and improve where needed will go far in keeping you ahead of the game.