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Brand crises are nothing new. But with the growing array of viral videos, online trolls, misinformation and other digital dangers just waiting to strike, brand managers must now account for an incredibly complex threatscape that could upend brand credibility at any moment.
Because such threats are not only abundant, but also always changing, they’re posing some remarkable challenges for brands and crisis management teams around the world.
While some elements of traditional crisis response remain, companies must quickly absorb and implement all new methods for managing crises and preventing online flare-ups from spiraling out of control.
So, what is new?
For better or worse, crises have been and likely always will be part of doing business. Despite history and the fact that major firms should probably know better, things like botched product rollouts, executive faux pas, mangled IPOs and other unforced errors will continue to pop up on occasion, no matter what procedures are in place to prevent it.
So, what is different? For one, those crises no longer simply pop up in the form of morning headlines or the evening news segments, only to disappear from the public eye a day or week later. Now, when disaster hits your brand, it’s likely to show up online, highlighted in a negative news story or blog with its very own (and often high-authority) link and position in search results.
Once that PR mishap hits the digital airwaves, it often takes on a life of its own. Social-media mentions and shares quickly fan the flames of what may have once been a minor blip in the news cycle, spreading the news and complicating matters almost exponentially.
Unfortunately, it gets worse …
Once it hits the web, unflattering news coverage can spell disaster for your brand, particularly when it gains traction and new life in social media. Unfortunately, bad news online isn’t the only (relatively) new brand-busting crisis companies must be prepared for in our hyperconnected age, as PR kerfuffles can spring up from, well, anywhere, and at any time.
Whether random or self-inflicted, brand disasters may now result from a variety of sources:
- False statements on social media. No matter who posts it, untrue statements on social platforms can catch fire fast. In fact, a recent study found that false information often spreads six times faster than factual statements. Compound that with the outrage factor and wild west nature of social conversations, and just one offhand comment can become a serious problem in a hurry.
- Online reviews. They may often seem harmless, but consumers these days put real stock into reviews, overwhelmingly trusting customer reviews as much as personal recommendations. Even when and how you deal with such negativity can result in real and very public blowback for your brand.
- Brand imposters. Failing to claim certain domains (URLs), business listings and social media related to your specific brand leaves the door wide open to brand imposters, competitors and other bad actors who often sweep right in and cast your business in an unfair light. The confusion and inconsistency that results can sometimes take months or even years to clean up.
With so many different threats circling the web and poised to attack your brands at any moment — and for any reason (or no reason at all) — knowing how to quickly manage and mitigate such crises is crucial.
Here are four ways to manage brand crises and come out ahead in today’s lightning-fast digital landscape.
1. Have a plan to work from
When it comes to crisis management, failing to plan is planning to fail. While it’s certainly not possible to prepare for every contingency — especially in the unpredictable digital universe — having a plan to start from makes it much easier to prevent and repair damage than, say, piecing things together on the run.
At a minimum, your brand’s crisis-management plan should include what constitutes a true crisis (at least when compared to a single, containable moment), who takes control when a crisis hits, who speaks to the media (and who avoids media contact altogether), a designated crisis-resolution team to manage the response and follow-up measures to ensure long-term resolution.
Mapping out a plan provides a crucial baseline from which to address issues and begin your response. It can also serve as a critical buffer between a potential crisis and your operation, helping minimize interruption and hits to your productivity throughout the process.
2. Respond quickly
In a time when bad news moves at the speed of light and just one deceptive or downright false comment can reach millions of people in mere seconds, new crises not only need to be taken seriously — they also need to be addressed fast.
And when I say fast, I mean FAST.
In many cases, crisis managers no longer have several days or even 24 hours to formulate a thoughtful response to ameliorate an embarrassing situation.
In fact, with Google and social media at their fingertips, more than half of consumers now expect brands to issue a statement in less than an hour while more than a third want to see a response within 30 minutes of the initial event.
And, while slow response times always threaten to make a bad brand crisis worse, failure to get in front of problems quickly gives free rein to competitors, customers and online trolls to seize on those moments of vulnerability and turn one-time flubs into long-term nightmares.
3. Take a multi-pronged approach
Sometimes, a one-and-done response may be enough to quell the situation and prevent a bigger problem. For example, some negative customer reviews or comments may be the result of a simple misunderstanding. In such cases, contacting the reviewer fast enough may be all it takes to resolve the issue, get the comment removed and end a potential crisis before it starts.
But the reality is much harsher. Reviewers, commenters and news publishers tend to be very reluctant about deleting something they’ve posted. And even if you do happen to remove a bad review or news article related to your brand, chances are good that others have seen it, shared it and likely made things worse somewhere on the web.
The truth is, the flow of online information makes crises much more complicated. So when managing that next flare-up, a multi-layered, multi-channel strategy is likely your best bet.
Bad press in The New York Times or Bloomberg, for instance, may require anything from public statements and increased social engagement to partial rebranding and search-engine suppression efforts to really stop the damage and get things back to normal. On the other hand, dealing with a really bad review, viral video or social post may take multi-pronged content removal, review management and search-results repair efforts to restore brand credibility to pre-crisis levels.
4. Monitor your online presence carefully
The best way to really get the jump on a problem is to know it’s coming. And because those problems tend to live and grow online these days, it’s absolutely essential for brand managers to diligently track new brand mentions and their progress across the web — particularly on the social feeds where things can get out of hand fast.
Careful, in-depth monitoring for new articles, blogs, reviews and social posts allows PR and crisis managers to identify potential hotspots and take swift action before they become full-blown crises. As mentioned earlier, just one negative comment or false item can reach millions of people in mere seconds, and the sooner you’re aware of that claim’s existence, the better you can deal with the fallout.
What’s more, a negative item not only does more damage the longer it’s online, but each day that local news video, headline or Yelp review goes unaddressed, the harder and costlier it gets to deal with, requiring time, energy and money that might have better served your enterprise elsewhere.