The Communications business is witnessing it all – the best and worst of times. Best in terms of emergence of technology that has led to easy access to information coupled with diverse platforms for outreach. However, positives give birth to the negatives too– brand clutter, information overload, crisis – that is also a click away – to name a few. In the age of social media, it is a matter of a few clicks, RTs and shares that a slip-up, typo or goof up will lead to more negative visibility; effectively negating the positive impact created by strategic brand announcements over a period of time.
Crisis communication cell
Gone are the days, when brands had the luxury of responding to issues, crisis situations in a few hours or days. Newspapers would only go for print by night, TV channels had more pressing issues to cover in limited slots, internet was a bunch of codes. Today, rumours and bad news travel faster than the bullet train, all thanks to the onslaught of online and social media. Once upon a time, there used to be crisis communication cells/experts in PR firms and corporates. The current scenario demands every communications consultant to be adept in handling crisis situations since you never know when you are caught unaware.
Are you ready?
However, most brands and consultants still live in a time warp, where protocols precede prompt action/reaction. Let’s consider a situation which has become commonplace nowadays – customer cribs, rants and blogs against a brand’s product/service. In most of the cases, by the time the brand notices, takes action, responds and tries to make amends, the damage is done, some good reputation is eroded, brand gets rebuked and then in due course of time everything settles down. However, the damage caused lingers on in the minds of people and when something small also happens in the future it gets blown out of proportion as people remember the previous crisis.
In most cases, a prompt response from the brand would salvage the situation. But what most people/consumers do not understand is the reason behind the delay. The corporate hierarchy can be a little complex at times to manage such crisis issues. Approvals, protocols can act as tough barriers in such situations. However, today’s quick fix generation is not ready to give you the extra time to prep. So, is your brand ready to face the unrest?
And the perfect approach is…
Well, there is no perfect solution. Every issue is different from the other in terms of complexities and gravity but there can be a few common ground rules.
- First and foremost, as a brand manager, communications consultant, it is your responsibility to keep a track of any triggers on social and online media. A number of tracking tools can help you do the same.
- Elevate, delegate and do everything possible to check on the facts versus the claims. In the meanwhile, do get in touch with the aggrieved party, pacify and assure about corrective action.
- Fault finding can be a tedious and lengthy job but at this moment that’s not really the requirement. The need of the hour is to make amends to a dissatisfied, disgruntled customer. Understand this and look for solutions rather than faults.
- After the dust settles down and you have got the situation under control, look for the rest of the answers. How? Why? A system or human slip up or a misunderstanding – all need to be acknowledged and explained. That is how you can win back the lost trust.
- In case, it was a hoax and an attempt to blackmail using social media muscle, handle it maturely. Mudslinging has never elevated any one party’s position. There are mature ways of handling issues. Take a high ground and avoid prolonging the situation.
- At the end, it is all about open and transparent communication. That is all it takes to salvage any situation and win back the respect. The standard ‘No comments’ approach may be passé in today’s age.
We often hear about cases where people tried to play nasty using their social media muscle but a lot of genuine cases get labeled the same way due to lack of open communication. In all of this, the brand loses its reputation along with some loyal and potential customers. It is a two way process – customers need to understand that mistakes, slip-ups happen and brands need to understand they have to be on top of such situations, accept and take prompt actions. More importantly, everyone else needs to get a bit less judgemental. Most of the times, we don’t know the true story and even if we do, it just might be a one-sided perspective. Tomorrow it could be you or your brand. A little sensitivity and patience can go a long way.
Most of us would recall that one of the most buzz-worthy ads of this year was a tweet from Oreo during the blackout at Super Bowl. Oreo seized on the opportunity, and tweeted a simple, relevant and brilliant message during the thirty-four minute hiatus. Apparently, the graphic released during the blackout was designed, captioned and approved within minutes. The power of real time marketing enabled the brand to gain more eyeballs and conversations than its TV ad could ever generate. Now, imagine what happens if we can apply even a fraction of this effort in real time crisis management. The possibilities are endless.
The author of this post, Liza Saha works at a leading Public Relations firm in Delhi, India. The views expressed here are the author’s independent views and do not reflect her organisation’s viewpoint.