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Online Crisis Management: Preparation, Not Practice-Makes-Perfect

December 10th, 2008 | | Reputation Management, Social Media & SEO

Just yesterday, while discussing the sad state of the Governor’s Office in his home state, my husband shared with me a recent tid-bit one of his graduate business professors had shared with the class. The professor, while working with corporations on developing core business principles, asked top execs of major, multi-national corporations, “what is your core business strength?” The worst answer, the professor said, was not “we can’t think of one,” though a sad answer nonetheless. The absolute most disappointing, and slightly frightening answer, was “crisis management.” I laughed. Good preparation and knowledge is one thing, enough experience to call his your “core business strength” is just sad.

As we talked about in two earlier post about online reputation management, Online Reputation Management: 10 Minutes a Day to Monitor Your Company’s Reputation and Online Reputation Management: A Black Friday Follow-up, most of what you’ll find while monitoring your reputation, even negative items, needs no response at all. In most cases, a response to some negative item will actually make the situation worse. But on those extremely rare occasions, where, like Rod Blagojevich, you or your company is taking center stage online in a light that will harm your career, your business and your reputation, let the search engines help you speak to the public and quickly disseminate an appropriate response. In a true crisis, you have to respond—even when that means admitting mistakes.

But you’re not Rod Blagojevich, and political corruption isn’t the best example of a “crisis” you can relate to, right? You’re a business owner; you market a product or service to consumers or other businesses. What if the crisis was a story the local news was about to run about a flaw in your product or service that could harm your consumers? That’s a crisis you can relate to, and an example most of us are very family with, whether we know it or not.

Consider a typical product recall. Most of us hear about them regularly but try to remember the name of a product or company involved in a recall. My guess is that most of us will be going back to names like Firestone, Aqua Dots, or Sony and its 2006 notebook battery recall. Why? Most product recalls never become a full-blown media crisis because of proper management, including online crisis management. A well-handled crisis rarely becomes front-page news, and even when it does, good strategy can limit the story’s shelf-life and get people focused on something else, fast.

So, what’s your online crisis management plan? Here are a few simple steps and strategies to get you started.

Be Prepared.

We don’t anticipate crises, they smack us in the face when we least expect it. A good plan will keep your organization from adopting a “the sky is falling” mentality, should a crisis arise.

  • Designate a few people to coordinate your online crisis response strategy, preferably the same people that handle your online reputation management.
  • Create a list of online platforms to use in your response. Remember who you’re speaking to when making this list. If you are communicating with customers, your website, blog, social networking sites, and other social sites that appeal to your customers are a good place to start a crisis response. If you are communicating to industry professionals, look to blogs, online journals and newsletters that appeal to professionals in your industry. If you can, take advantage of viral platforms such as YouTube. A video of an interview with your CEO or a company executive talking candidly and openly about a crisis has a viral quality that can quickly climb into top search results.
  • Understand and record your “chain-of-command.” Who is the final word in responding to questions? What person within the company has the understanding and authority to respond to media and consumers or present the company position on a crisis? Know who to talk to for information and who must approve a response before it is made public. Getting caught up in the approval process for days can look like stalling to the public.

React Quickly, Communicate Effectively.

With a plan in place, you know where to distribute your crisis response message online, who will do it, and who communicates this message from within the company. Just remember these few things when considering your message.

  • There is no room for “spin” in online crisis management. You are responding to a crisis to communicate with the public that you are aware of a crisis and capable of dealing with one—you’re not downplaying or avoiding it. Remember that what you do online gets distributed fast and lives on for a long, long time. Telling the truth in a crisis and focusing on solutions and response is the only option to avoid creating another potential crisis.
  • Remember that most online platforms used to respond to a crisis are interactive. To maintain credibility and show your concern for the public and your customers, you need to interact where appropriate. On blogs and message boards, if you post a press release or response to a crisis, try to answer questions and respond to comments honestly and openly—even the critical ones. Admit shortcomings and focus on lessons learned and strategies to improve upon. Be real. Put names to your responses, not just anonymous corporate titles, admit when you don’t know something, use everyday language and, again, be honest.

Bonus Round: Be Proactive.

Some companies or industries, such as fast food or packaged goods, are plagued with rumors that, if they take off, can become a crisis that has to be dealt with—no matter how silly or unfounded. If you find that your business is dealing with situations like this often, and you’re concerned that it could evolve to crisis-level quickly, take a cue from Coca-Cola and Starbucks. Both have created a proactive platform to dispel myths and rumors about the company and give the public a quick response without lending any credibility to rumors or stories that often get traded online.

The goal of a good online crisis management strategy is to limit the spread of the uncontrolled message. You want a Google search to have your company’s crafted response sitting in the top positions, whether it’s blog posts, press releases, news interviews or social networking pages. These top positions mean that you can communicate with consumers and the public first, diminishing the persuasiveness of overblown or inaccurate information available on the web. You can communicate your response rather than dwelling on the crisis, discuss future plans rather thank past mistakes and show consumers that your company prides itself on being honest, forthcoming and diligent.

Do you have a comment, questions or tip about online crisis management? Take a minute to share with us!

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  • http://www.brandvois.com/reputation-management/ Reputation Management

    National Crisis Management specialists providing online crisis and issues management services.