All companies should be prepared and ready to deal with possible PR crises, because they can damage a brands image and reputation. No matter how big a company is or how popular they are, complaints are inevitable. At some point in time, you’ll eventually come across bashers or customers who aren’t pleased with their experience.
For starters, you’ll need a social media crisis management plan to avoid making any issues bigger. But, you should first be able to identify the crisis.
Here are a few examples of social media crises and how you can deal with them:
A multi-channel crisis is when the public are affected by what your brand posts. It could be that they are offended by or disagree with what you’ve published. One of the most dangerous crises a brand can experience is a multi-channel crisis because it can go viral immediately and attract a huge amount of negative publicity in a short span of time if left unchecked.
An example of this would be an incident that happened in January 2018, with the clothing retailer H&M. A black child was modelling a hooded top with the words “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle.” The public was outraged by this, and many people were deeply offended. Even celebrities were reacting and tweeting about how they would refuse to work with the brand in the future. H&M ended up taking down the image and publicly apologizing about the incident.
Brands should be sensitive, considerate and careful when advertising and promoting their products or services, so as not to discriminate against against minority groups. This particular example really made H&M’s audience rethink whether they should continue patronizing the brand.
In this type of crisis, you should acknowledge the situation by apologizing to the public immediately. It’s always better to release a concise message before other influencers, journalists or media get in the way. Own up to what you did and assure everyone that it won’t happen again.
Let them know you will make sure all upcoming content will be evaluated thoroughly to avoid these types of situations. Make sure you are open for further questions. Be prepared to answer the who, what, where, when and why after you’ve released your statement.
Complaints by customers are nearly always expressed on social media. Brands must watch out for these so that the issues don’t escalate quickly, or at all. This means you need to monitor your social media accounts as well as check for any brand mentions several times a day.
It’s a good idea to create a script or discuss how you can reply to customer queries and complaints. This way, you’ll know what to do and can act swiftly when the situation arises, preventing the issue from spreading further. Remember that posts can easily be shared or retweeted for more people to see, so time is of the essence.
In an emerging crisis, prospects who have no previous experience with your brand may be turned off. Existing customers, on the other hand, who had a positive experience with you in the past, may even question if they should repurchase or use your service again. Not addressing their concerns is like giving them a push to try your competitors’ products rather than encouraging them to stay loyal to your brand.
A situation where brands run a smear campaign against competitors is known as an industry-adjacent crisis. One case of this would be the UK-based baby clothes retailer, JoJo Maman Bebe. Their products were too pricey for most of their customers, so a group emerged on social media called JoJo Maman Bebe Pre-Loved Buy and Sell.
The group gained more than 20,000 followers, which bothered the original brand. The Pre-Loved Buy and Sell group were selling the same products, but for a cheaper price. The original brand released an angry statement against the group complaining about why customers would buy second-hand goods. This statement was written by the brand accountant. It was said to be “incredibly rude,” “snotty,” and was even called an “epic PR fail.”
From this incident, brands should be aware that personal messages should not be released in the name of the company. The brand itself should address the situation rather than individual employees. Also, employees, no matter how high or low up in the corporate ladder, represent the brand. Ranting about issues on their personal social media accounts is unprofessional and potentially harmful to the brand.
It can seem as if the brand is hiding and evading the situation. This should have been dealt with in a better manner by approaching the owner of the group and settling things between them. You should generally avoid anything that can spark criticism about the way you handle things.
Old School Trolling
Some people might post fake news to spark attention (or tension). The old school troll will do whatever it takes to gain more followers or likes. They want to be famous so they might try to post irrelevant, spam, abusive, or threatening content to further their agenda.
Avoid trolls at all costs. Delete their post and block them right away. Engaging with them is basically fanning the flames, so ignore them and don’t allow them to spread their negativity. Of course, you should always do a little digging through each case to find out the truth before deeming anyone a troll. Choosing the wrong situation to expose a troll might just backfire and make the situation worse.
Social Media Activism
A more difficult crisis to deal with are activists. You can get two types of activists, the single cause activists and the larger groups. Single cause activists aim to make changes in the community. Similar to trolls, they leave comments in Facebook groups. Depending on the situation, you can decide if you should reply to their post or ignore them entirely. But first, do some research on the person behind the comment or post.
In 2015, Pamela Anderson (a member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and a former MAC spokesperson) wrote a letter to tell MAC to remove their products from the Chinese Market. China is known to test products on animals in cruel ways, which end up harming them.
The letter was released online for everyone to see, where many activists who were against animal testing made their anger known. But MAC dealt with this situation by explaining that it was required by the law in China that products must be tested on animals. China requires animal testing and MAC must comply to their laws. However, they assured everyone that they themselves are against animal testing.
The larger groups of activists can be a bigger threat to your brand. They come prepared and have everything planned out, making it hard to defend against them (but not impossible). So, the best way to overcome them is to talk to them “offline” to find out what your brand can do to help their cause or at least appease them. There may be a reason why they’re targeting you in the first place, so it’s best to be socially responsible.
A popular brand well-known in the Philippines called NutriAsia, had an alarming issue this 2018. Probationary employees rallied and spoke up about how they were being mistreated (underpaid and forced to work extra hours). However, when they asked to become regularized employees, they were refused.
As this issue spread on social media, activists tried slamming Nutriasia. One of the groups, Karapatan, released a statement saying: “The workers’ assertion and strike is just. We call on everyone to stand in solidarity with the workers of NutriAsia and demand accountability from the company and the PNP who instigated the entire ordeal. We also call for the immediate release of the 19 arrested individuals. We likewise challenge the Duterte regime to follow through on its pronouncements and end contractualization in all of its forms.”
In this example, we can see that activists fought for what they believed in. They tried to help employees in any way that they could. Even netizens got involved and tried to encourage as many people as they could to boycott the products of Nutriasia.
A situation like this is extremely difficult to deal with. You will have to be careful with the statements you choose to release and what actions you take next. Understand that your brand is under the microscope at this point and every statement you release to the public will be under heavy scrutiny.
The wisest way to deal with a social crisis is to make sure nothing like this ever happens again. In order to reposition your brand, you might have to run a few human resource PR campaigns that promote employee goodwill within the company.
Journalists, celebrities, experts, and social media influencers are people your brand should watch out for. They can be similar to activists in a way that they will fight for a specific cause, but in this case they bring their fans/followers with them.
You must respond to them when addressed. Not replying will almost certainly make things worse because they have a large sphere of influence in the digital world. So, you should be open to discussions and engage with influencers with an open-mind. Make sure you don’t try to control them or tell them what to do. Instead, allow them to voice their opinion to understand where they’re coming from. Being honest and transparent may tilt the tides in your favor, turning a crisis into a potential opportunity.
We all know how much celebrities have a great influence over large groups of people. A lot of fans lookup to them, copy them, and support whatever they do. Imagine if they were to say negative things about another brand. It could instantly affect your brand reputation.
For example, back in March 2018, Riverdale stars Lili Reinhard and Camila Mendes called out Cosmopolitan Philippines for photoshopping their photos. They reposted the original and the photoshopped photos on their Instagram stories showing how Cosmopolitan made it look like their waists were thinner. The two actresses expressed how they worked hard to “feel confident and comfortable” in their own bodies. So, they were disappointed that their bodies were “distorted” in the final image.
This example, shows how the two actresses could relate more to the audience than the brand. The issue is sensitive to many women out there. So, influencers pointing out how the magazine photoshops and makes cover girls look skinnier than they are makes the audience open their eyes. It makes them aware that magazines photoshop and show “fake” images of female bodies rather than showing the truth. This was effectively a great endorsement gone wrong.
Influencers can be a big help to brands. Not only do you need to build the relationship with your audience but also with the right influencers because you can always help each other out. So, nurture them to make sure their on your side if you want to effectively mitigate a PR crisis.
Dealing with A Crisis
When you build a team, keep in mind that everyone should be aware of how to deal with the crisis. For the most part, reacting immediately to negative comments or reviews will probably make things worse. The main goal is to keep the customers happy and to address their concerns. You want to build and maintain a relationship, so they continue to trust your brand.
Not only should you be aware of your audience, but also of influencers and activists. Your content shouldn’t offend or hurt anyone, so make sure you filter what you post and be more sensitive to others.
Take note of each crisis scenario and prepare carefully, making sure everyone in the team is on the same page. Work together and create guidelines to make sure everything runs smoothly. You should also set rules on how you communicate with your customers, which can include the tone and templated responses. You will also need to discuss which channel you will use to respond, whether it is replying publicly in the comment box or messaging them directly.
Be prepared to mitigate any future crises by following these tips. With the right plan in place, you’ll be able to turn negative PR situations into huge growth and positioning opportunities for your brand!