It’s been almost a month since what’s believed to be the most severe PR crisis in United Airlines’ 91-year history. While there was no crash and not a single casualty, it is considered to be the strongest hit to the company’s reputation, having become a trending topic on every major social media platform and for almost five days surpassing topics such as immigration, public health, and Donald Trump.
So what can digital marketers learn from this PR disaster? And what steps should be included in your digital PR crisis plan to manage this difficult situation?
Have A Crisis Management Plan Ready
PR crises nowadays tend to be even more catastrophic than in the past. With the news spreading through social media in a split second and becoming viral in zero time, crisis management’s fundamental rule (i.e. to have a plan ready) is more relevant than ever. Don’t wait for the tragedy to happen; decide who will form and who is going to lead (naturally, that should be your CEO) the action team during a crisis, and work with them so that each individual knows their exact role.
A crisis management digital plan should briefly explain everything the response team needs to know: what sort of media, owned and paid, will be used, the tone of the statements, the process of issuing press releases, the way customers and audience in general will be treated in comment responses and personal messages – pretty much everything. Don’t forget to work on the authorisation process; remember, the plan has to run immediately once a crisis is initiated.
Customer Above All
There’s only one boss: the customer. Your decisions during the crisis should be focussed on your customers; they are your first and only priority. Answer their questions briefly but clearly through social media; keep the information flow steady, show respect and remorse, try to calm them down and regain their trust.
Remember that your statements will be shared a lot during times like these, so be extra careful. Have properly trained spokespersons and representatives do the digital ‘talking’. They have to be responsive while at the same time will maintain full control of the information they reveal without uncovering any digital matters At the end of the day, the customer will decide whether your crisis management digital plan was successful; they are the one who will either congratulate or condemn you.
Make up your mind in terms of what you’re going to say; speak clearly and to everyone. The worst thing that can happen during a crisis is a clash of information; everyone, from the press and the authorities, to your people and your customers, needs to know the exact same things, or you risk potential leaks which could cause further harm and distress.
Be proactive and produce a series of holding statements, which you’ll need to review regularly; these will help you during the first stages of a crisis, allowing you to appear extrovert, while still assessing the situation. Publish your statements, status updates and press releases on all your social media profiles and your blog, be specific, to the point, avoid using stilted language and formalisms. Have a list of frequently asked questions (and answers) handy in order to decrease your response time and be more efficient.
Plot Your SEO Steps
As searches for your brand are likely to spike, making sure your SEO is optimised to direct these enquiries to the correct pages and people is a priority. Once you have assigned a spokesperson, make sure that their social networking accounts and any statements they are making on your site or platforms are optimised to rank highly for keywords relating to the incident. This means people searching for information will be directed to channels which you already have control over, rather than being distracted by other, less-informed commentators, or even your competitors.
You’ve made a mistake. You’re neither the first, nor the last company to do so. The first thing you should do, once your action plan is in motion and the channels are under control, is deeply and honestly apologise to everyone affected. Consumer trust towards your brand may have taken a serious blow, and in order to regain it your first action has to be to recognise your error. Issue your apology on your site or blog and point towards it through your social media profiles – be transparent and you’ll gain back the public’s trust.
Later on, when the situation will have been properly addressed and the storm will have settled, let everyone know about your findings, how this crisis has made you wiser and the actions you will take in order to prevent it from happening again. What would you have done differently in a similar situation in the future? The crisis you’ve just been through could prove an excellent reference in the future. Let your future employees learn from the current ones’ mistakes and wins!
While hopefully your digital PR team will never need to use their crisis plan, having a fully realised strategy for dealing with PR incidents is vital for any brand, in order to maintain control of the situation and behind to repair that vital consumer-brand relationship. By ensuring the different sectors of your marketing department are aligned, involved and confident of their role during the crisis, there’s no reason why you won’t be able to come through smarter, maturer and prepared to better your brand.