Steps for Managing a PR Crisis
It happens to every company at some point in time: confidential information is leaked, someone misspeaks, the wrong post goes out, or the wrong words were used. PR slip-ups like these can be detrimental to a company’s customer retention and public perception, but what do you do when one happens? What does it mean to handle your Shopify store’s PR slip-up? Without proper intervention, a single slip-up can quickly become a viral hashtag, a “so-and-so is over” party, and a lifelong damaged company persona.
With the whirlwind of change happening around us right now, Full Fat Commerce is diving into the hardest questions of all, and (hopefully) helping you mitigate any problematic posts.
Prevent Disasters Before They Happen
The best way to handle PR problems is to avoid them in the first place. Easier said than done, of course, but your company should have as many measures in place as possible to prevent potential slip-ups. For one, there should always be someone on top of current events. The last thing you want is a public relations slip-up that’s the result of an otherwise acceptable post that quickly becomes problematic as breaking news occurs. Additionally, smaller complaints that aren’t issued on a wide-scale should be answered and solved daily. Bad reviews deserve a reply at a minimum, and it’s preferable to provide a way for a customer to receive compensatory action in some form. Keep any replies upbeat, positive, and apologetic. When you control your public relations on a smaller scale each and every day, you lessen the risk of stepping into a bigger issue that goes beyond the brand.
Hold All Media
There’s nothing worse than a pre-scheduled post going out in the midst of a PR crisis. In fact, this type of post can become a PR disaster in and of itself. Press pause on all fronts, and freeze any scheduled posts going out for the time being. It’s best to not seem distracted, because it may appear as if you don’t care about what you’ve done wrong.
Understand What Happened
The virality of PR problems can make it difficult to get to the source of the problem. If your PR slip-up seems to be growing on social media platforms, do your best to find the earliest and biggest posts. They’ll tell you where to begin with forming an apology. In every crisis, there’s a wronged party. Focus on how to best reach those that you hurt, and let it dictate where your apology goes. Small PR-slip-ups can be handled with a singular, short tweet or Instagram story. More serious downfalls may be cause for a thread of tweets or even a landing page pop-up. Let the size and reach of your apology be one step above the severity of the situation, guaranteeing it reaches everyone affected.
As a company whole, decide where to take the problem at hand. Is the criticism over-reactive, or are people reacting at an appropriate level given your wrong-doing? This is a good time to remind ourselves of the company values. Were you true to them? If not, should you have been? Consider if your apology will address if you were set up for success and failed, or if your company fell short of being the best influence possible from the start.
There are instances where businesses truly haven’t done anything wrong. Situations like these tend to arise from moral disagreements, like companies that sell meat being criticised by a vegan community. Neither party is necessarily wrong nor right; they simply disagree. In situations like these, it’s best to approach the public through a customer service lens. State your company values and virtues, and why recent public outcry has been unfairly administered. Show understanding and respect for the other group, and work to find a middle ground if you think it will improve public perception of your store, company, or business despite the situation’s conflict of interest. For instance, in the aforementioned scenario, it may be helpful to release a public statement on the company’s commitment to the welfare and well-being of animals used for meat – an option that pleases both parties.
After your theoretical positioning is complete, it’s time to make your statement public. Choose your words carefully, and run the copywriting by as many people as necessary. Scrutinise your own post, seeing it from the point of view of someone hurt. Would this apology be sufficient if you were them? The answer should be an overwhelming yes; anything less needs to head back to the drawing board. Good apologies should include a description of what you did wrong, why it was wrong, and how you’ll be working to right said wrong. This allows those uninformed about the situation to achieve the full story without digging deeper into past posts or problematic commentary. It shows maturity, owns up to a mistake, and demonstrates an understanding that admitting a problem is part of the solution.
Lastly, be sure to act swiftly. Apologies don’t obey the 9-5 work realm. Don’t rush and push for unfinished or unrevised apologies to hit the public eye, but don’t let a problem sit just because it’s afterhours.
Don’t Go Dark
Apology in place? Great. Don’t make the beginner’s mistake of posting a public apology or righting your wrongs only to log off for the night. Make a conscious and active effort to read replies and respond where appropriate. Criticism from the public is valid, and their responses will let you know if you’ve delivered a sufficient apology. Answer with empathy, not sympathy, and disregard any defensiveness you may feel.
Commit to Change
Many of us like to believe that a PR slip-up is the result of a one-time misstep or bad judgement. While this is the case occasionally, a PR crisis can be an indicator that one of your underlying processes or values is lacking. Develop a team or company-wide plan that addresses the root of the problem, whether it be that your social media posts are going out without a second pair of eyes on them or that your administrative team is lacking the diversity necessary to combat systemic issues. Don’t apologise for the sake of self-preservation, apologise because you mean it.
Keep in mind that making a change may fall outside the four walls of your office building. Many of today’s slip-ups call for contributory community involvement and donations. Especially if your company is on the larger side, consider donating financially to groups you hurt with your actions and words, or pair up with another organisation that actively works to combat issues that you accidentally partook in.
Embrace the Experience
When the public regards our posts as wrongful, it can be tough not to take it personally. However, these are moments to take in stride. Embrace the growing process, understanding that you were granted the opportunity to learn and better yourself as a company whole. Make a change, but don’t forget this moment as part of your company’s history. Afterall, those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it, as George Santayana would say. Each business decision is part of your company’s history. Make good decisions as often as possible, and allow any bad ones to guide the growth to be better in time.