Despite their best intentions, a client ran afoul of a regulatory rule they were misinformed upon. They had to close their business down for a day, but they were soon up and running at 100%.
Though the problem had been resolved quickly, it immediately hit the newspaper. Whispers ran up and down the street, and people mocked the business online, citing the article as a concern for using our client in the future.
Of course, the client came to us and asked the obvious question: How do we respond to this?
A Multi-Tiered Attack
How you respond to a public incident will need to change depending on the circumstances, but here's a general framework on how to navigate the situation. Note: The below is not a perfect template for everyone. For a great primer on crisis navigation, check out Social Media Examiner's Social Media Marketing podcast episode "Crisis Planning: How to Publicly Respond to Business Problems."
1. Address it internally. The problem may be something you can address immediately. If so, take care of it. If not, write and start a plan that will correct the issue over time. This is crucial for Step 3.
2. Own up to your mistake. People already know about it. Whether you're a restaurant that left raw meat out on a counter or a construction company that didn't enforce hard hats, word gets around—and people are going to be upset about it. Admit that you made a mistake on your social media channels, your website (if you have an appropriate outlet to do so), and, if necessary, a press release. This shows honesty and integrity. Make sure you finish with an apology.
There's a bonus to owning up to your mistake in public: You get to control the conversation. Sure, the newspaper might say one thing, and customer reviews might say another. But on your own channels, you'll get to lay out the story exactly as it happened, and people will get to reply to that instead of attacking you on unfounded claims.
3. Explain how you're going to fix it (or already did). Remember the solution you created in Step 1? Now's the time to explain it. Write out how the problem has been or will be resolved. Depending on the circumstances, you may even invite the public to make recommendations.
4. Monitor the conversation. Once you release your statement on social media, expect to see at least a few comments—and don't expect them to be rosy. You may want to assign one or two people to handle the first day of responses.
To ensure you're completely ready:
1. Train your respondents so they're fully aware of the facts and understand how much they can reveal.
2. Anticipate the potential questions and comments, and prepare a spreadsheet with boilerplate responses. Your company doesn't necessarily need to use the boilerplate language on every reply, but you should use it as a guide for appropriate responses.
3. You don't have to reply to every comment. Some people will bait you for a bigger fight. Use discretion to decide which comments warrant a reply, and which can be ignored. However, you shouldn't ignore a reply simply because it's difficult.
Not sure how to respond? Let's pretend Poetica Marketing is actually a steakhouse. In this example scenario, we underwent a health inspection and the inspector discovered raw meat sitting on a counter in the back of the kitchen. We received a citation, and the issue hit the local news. We've decided it's best to release a statement.
Here's our sample statement to hit the social media channels:
Dear friends and loyal patrons,
During a recent inspection, it was found that a cut of raw steak had been left out on a kitchen counter for an inappropriate amount of time. As one of our region's finest steakhouses, we realize this is a violation of both your trust and the standards we set for ourselves when we started this business. In addition to disposing of the meat and checking our refrigerator temperatures, we are now retraining all of our personnel on food safety and regulations. In addition, all employees, both current and future, will eventually become ServSafe Certified. We apologize to everyone in our great city, and we're working hard to ensure this never happens again.
-Your friends at Poetica Marketing
With today's news cycles, there's a very good chance your story will get buried very quickly (assuming nothing grave occurred), especially if you're a SMB. My client I mentioned at the top of this blog post? They dealt with comments for a couple days. But thanks to their continued outstanding customer service and excellent products, they were quickly able to make the bad news history.
You'll likely experience the same thing.
Need a hand with your online presence and public relations? Contact us today to learn how we can help you navigate even the trickiest PR issues.