Oh, how the times have changed. It used to be that a company had at least several hours to respond to a major crisis sometimes up to 24 hours or more. Now, with social media, companies aren’t quite so lucky.
For example, in 1982, seven people were killed in Chicago, after someone laced Tylenol capsules with cyanide. Investigators discovered that the bottles in which poisoned capsules were discovered were all from different factories, so internal sabotage wasn’t an option. It became obvious that someone had pulled the bottles from the shelf, tampered with the pills and replaced them.
Even though Tylenol was not at fault in the least, their immediate response to the crisis has long been remembered in public relations circles as an example of how to react in a crisis situation. In fact, several media outlets hailed Tylenol for their excellent response (they immediately shut down production and recalled millions of bottles of Tylenol capsules.) This all happened within 6 days.
Fast forward to 2011; Netflix announced that they planned to alter their pricing methods. Customers would now have to pay two separate fees for online viewing and for DVD mailings. For some customers this meant that their monthly bill would double. Netflix’s announcement was rather impersonal, and the public reacted. Nearly 90,000 people commented on their status update announcing the change. And a vast majority of the comments were very negative.
News outlets ran stories of outrage and fury from customers who claimed that the company didn’t care about their customers. Netflix’s response to the outcry was minimal at best.
This response happened within hours of their announcement. Read that: hours, not days. You do not have the luxury of taking six days to respond to a crisis. Here are a few tips to help you manage a public relations mess in the economy of immediate gratification.
Strike while the iron’s hot: Don’t wait too long to respond. Take enough time to compose an intelligent, informative post to assure your customers that you are handling the situation. You may wish you have a generic form written up so that you can respond immediately and buy yourself a little time to assess the situation.
Offer assurances: Apologize, even if it’s not your fault. Apologize for the inconvenience that your customers are experiences and assure them that you are handling the situation. Let them know you are working at remedying the problem. It’s nice to actually be working on the problem but customers need to be coddled just a little bit.
Be open: Be as honest about the situation as possible. If it’s a personnel issue, you may only be able to say a few things, legally. Otherwise be as upfront and forthcoming as possible. While it may be immediately embarrassing, in the long run complete transparency will benefit your company rather than harm it.
Keep them informed: Keep your customers apprised up any updates on the crisis as necessary. This will help customers feel that you are concerned about their satisfaction. Customers like to feel like part of the companies they frequent, so let them.
Handling a public relations crisis can be intense, especially with the ability to pass information around so quickly. From text messages to e-mails, tweets and Facebook updates gossip, rumors and bad news move faster than ever before. Try to be one step ahead, or at the very least, just behind the newsflash and you’ll be able to reign in the panic before it gets out of control.
photo by: BlueRobot