It can take years for your business to establish a great reputation and literally seconds for it to be destroyed. Fact. Bad news travels fast – instantly, in today’s digital world of smartphones, tablets and social media.
This is where crisis communications and reputation management come into force. It sounds obvious for big organisations that could have to deal with oil spills, hostile takeovers, whistleblowers or mass recalls.
But do SMEs really need to spend time and money having a crisis management plan in place?
Undoubtedly yes. You may not be BP or Toyota, but bad news can stick like mud. A negative local news story or tweet can have an extremely long shelf life, and you don’t want potential customers seeing something about redundancies or equipment fires when they Google your company name.
So what’s the best way to protect yourself? These 4 simple tips will help prevent a small problem from being blown out of proportion:
1. Monitor the media
Effective crisis management is about dealing with issues as early as possible. To do this you need to know what people are saying about you at any given time.
Some crises, like redundancies or explosions, start from within the company, which means you can proactively manage your response.
But in other cases you need to be reactive. The media don’t always approach you for comment, which means you need to know if an article about you has been published. The only way to know if someone has tweeted complaining about your customer service is to monitor Twitter. There are tools to help you do this. Google News lets you set up alerts for specific search terms. Social Mention lets you monitor activity on multiple social networks.
2. Choose your spokesperson
You don’t necessarily need a comprehensive plan in place that covers every possible eventuality. But you do need to know who’s going to be speaking on behalf of your company if something does happen.
Having a single spokesperson allows you to channel the information you give out so you can manage your response and control your messaging. Everyone knows who the key person is, so they know where to direct enquiries and not to give out unverified or needless information.
3. Don’t be afraid to call someone back
Your knee-jerk reaction can be as damaging as the crisis itself, so it’s crucial that you avoid panicking. When speaking to people – journalists, staff, customers – don’t feel pressured into giving an immediate response. And never say ‘no comment’.
If you don’t know an answer, ask for time to check the facts, and then get back to them. As long as you revert in reasonable time everyone wins.
4. Keep people informed
People get very frustrated when there's no forthcoming information – just think about your frustration when on a delayed train or flight.
Lack of communication leads to rumours, and rumours cause more damage than facts. There's a positive feeling associated with being in the know, and in a crisis you need to cultivate positive feelings.