In an age when technology is an ingrained part of everyday life, your digital reputation counts more than ever before. People are spending increasing amounts of time online, meaning they are more likely to spot when brands slip up.
While a typo in a tweet or document leak might not seem like too much of a problem, the reality is that negative brand perception can escalate quickly into a crisis situation for your organisation. How you react can make you or break you.
Is there any such thing as a bulletproof reputation?
A survey carried out by Deloitte showed that 88% of executives regard reputation risks as a top business concern, demonstrating that a brand’s reputation needs to be absolutely bombproof. But is that enough?
In essence, no. We live in a world that is always plugged in. Finding fame via a viral video clip is becoming more and more common, especially when consumers spend, on average, two hours and 25 minutes online every day. Because of this, even the hardiest of reputations can be destroyed in the blink of an eye.
So, what events can bring a brand to its knees?
You can find yourself going viral with an uncompromising video or a wounding newspaper report linked to your business or employees. These situations can spread like wildfire around social media platforms.
An unintentional (or intentional) employee blunder can erupt out of nowhere, bringing havoc with it. These situations are the cause of most common brand management crisis events, but they are also the easiest to prepare for and avoid. How you handle this fallout and the speed with which you act, can save or destroy you.
So, let’s look at the five top ways to plan for and manage a brand reputation crisis situation.
1. Be prepared
It is always better to be prepared with a plan that gives you choices. Following a ready-made brand reputation plan will give you the confidence to solve the problem successfully and prevent you from making rash decisions.
Organise a team that will run your plan
Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Wise words indeed.
To avoid this, organise a brand management team – employees from HR, Marketing, PR and Legal will be best equipped for this role as they have a diverse range of skills across people and reputation management. Ask this team to create a plan, focusing on what could cause issues for your business and how to solve them. Determine ways you can bring problems to a swift conclusion while also knowing what tone and language you will want to use. Decide on response times and stick to them, and designate duties to your brand management team to ensure everyone is clear of their role.
Search the internet for brand management crises and ways in which they were put to bed successfully; reading up on those that ended in disaster can make for sobering but enlightening reading too.
Make sure the plan clearly outlines the difference between a brand crisis and an unfavourable PR moment as, on the brand crisis scale, a negative brand review is a million miles away from an unsolicited fraud claim. Have a strategy for the minor and major possibilities. Knowing whether to speak directly to a few unhappy customers or dive in and go public can save you from escalating an issue into a crisis. Try not to waver from the plan unless it is absolutely necessary.
Implement a social media policy
Set out a clear social media policy for employees. The guidelines must be precise and give expectations for acceptable use of branded accounts. Ensure that employees are also given explicit guidelines on how you expect them to talk about the business on their own personal social media accounts.
Maximising the personal reputations of your executives online is also an essential. If you nurture their professional social media presence on sites like LinkedIn and Twitter you are ultimately protecting your brand and allowing its biggest advocates to always say the right thing.
Manage access to your social media accounts with caution. Restricting social media access to branded accounts, so only a few chosen employees have the necessary passwords, could avoid unnecessary disaster. This should be a part of your social media policy and is something 60% of businesses now do.
Don’t wait for a brand crisis to hit you between the eyes – be on top of your brand’s reputation by listening to what other people are already saying about you. Monitor and evaluate your customer feedback and listen to social chatter, which could give you the edge when it comes to predicting a crisis. It’s important for customers to see positive customer reviews and social media posts dating back over a long period of time, as potential buyers will feel more confident you have a trusted and steady reputation.
Invest in social listening and customer feedback tools. Feefo offers customer feedback that software can help you constantly monitor and evaluate conversations about your brand. Our software helps you to listen to what is being said in good times, as well as bad.
2. Assess the situation
If your brand reputation suffers a large blow, the first thing you will want to do is assess the damage. Decide how serious the situation is. The way you conduct your entire media and customer response will revolve around this evaluation.
Understand what the problem is and how the media is presenting it. Listen to the journalistic communities – what is it they are most offended by? Knowing and understanding where they feel let down or abandoned will enable you to work out how to put things right. Using your social listening tools they will inform you of what your audience is saying, the keywords that are being used in customer feedback and the sentiment they are feeling. This will guide you in determining your reaction and response.
If you have experienced a significant crisis, such as a data leak, understand people's immediate needs. Assuring customers their personal data is safe is of more significance than how it happened.
You will also want to liaise with your employees and keep them informed of the unfolding situation. It is preferable that they are directed by you and not responding or joining in with the negative sentiment from social media.
3. Connect with the customer
Honesty is the best policy. Removing negative feedback, denying it when it is accurate or claiming to be hacked when you haven’t, are all excuses that have been tried and failed before. The Digital Asset Management Platform, Brandfolder points out five times brands have dug themselves deeper into crisis by their own failure to connect with the customer. They suggest that your customers will respond with more sympathy if you admit your mistake outright and explain how you endeavour to put the brand crisis right.
Show that you care and take the time to respond to negative criticism by crafting your social media replies thoughtfully. Consumers respond well when you show that you care about their negative experience and that you are willing to go the extra mile to put it right. Future visitors reviewing your brand will also see your replies and appreciate your consideration.
If you feel your negative review is unjust, respond with the truth. Replying with facts at your fingertips will dispel an unfair complaint. However, if you are in the position where you must prove a customer wrong – avoid anger at all costs. Whatever your response, it is there for all to see and all to judge (and to share!), so re-read it several times before you upload it for the world to see.
In the immediate aftermath of a brand crisis, the way you communicate with your audience is key to moving your brand forward. Be positive. Be fair. Be contrite if needed. This will help your customers reconnect with the brand.
There are going to be occasions when you feel the damaging review is unwarranted and unfair but if you are in the wrong, you must admit it. We all value and appreciate a sincere apology.
4. Unify your team and present a united front
Share the impact of the crisis with your employees and stakeholders by informing them of what has happened and what you intend to do to fix it. If your employees and stakeholders understand and sympathise with your plans to close down the crisis, you are more likely to engage a similar reaction in your customer base too.
It doesn’t matter whether you have rigorously and robustly implemented all the above steps – if one of your executives ‘goes rogue’, this can jeopardise the whole crisis management response. So, make sure all your team is on side and plan any statements you wish to issue in advance so that you are not having to come up with new wording amidst the fallout. Consumers are shaken when the language changes as it generates feelings of distrust or disorganisation, so once the course of action has been planned, stay on script. Just one whisper of uncertainty can bury you.
5. Be proactive
Once you have formalised your brand crisis management plan and executives, stakeholders, and employees are prepared – run with it. The faster you are out of the tracks and ready to deal with the situation, the sooner you can douse the flames. Stick to your script but ensure transparency and openness throughout.
In the digital age, much of our time is devoted to social media, browsing through the online photographs and the opinions of others, so it’s important to be prepared for whatever the internet might throw your way. When a situation is about to escalate, knowing how to deal with a potentially destructive brand crisis could save you money, reputation, and respect, paving the way for a successful recovery when everything calms down.