Managing the Aftermath of a Digital PR Crisis

Brands need to have a vibrant and active social media presence today. That’s just a fact of doing business in the modern world. However, being on social media comes with both benefits and dangers. The latter includes direct, continual contact with fans and customers. The opportunity to engage, to solve problems, and to influence the narrative about and around the brand in the consumer public.

However, when mistakes are made, all of those benefits can act against the brand, amplifying a momentary lapse and creating a monumental PR crisis. When that happens, the issue should be dealt with carefully and directly… But what comes next? Let’s take a look at how brands should use the tools available on social media to mitigate a PR crisis and move forward to re-establish the brand’s reputation.

Begin by accepting responsibility where appropriate. People online will blame the brand, whether or not decision makers accept responsibility. It’s infinitely better to stand up and admit where things went wrong, either personally or corporately. That doesn’t mean pandering. There’s often no need to take the blame for something that isn’t the brand’s direct responsibility, but it’s always a good look to be seen taking leadership of a crisis response.

Once the brand has proactively taken a leadership role in the mitigation of the crisis, decision makers should determine what measures could be taken to prevent similar crises in the future. This action tells the consumer public that the brand is interested in making positive long-term changes, rather than simply placating upset people in the moment.

Whether it’s a major issue such as a security breach or a serious crime, something relatively minor, like an employee personally saying something inappropriate online, or anything in between, when a brand announces that it is taking responsibility while also implementing preventative steps, this communicates that the brand’s decision makers take the issue seriously enough to suspend business as usual and properly address the problem.

From there, it’s important that the company understands their short-term customer relationship cannot be business as usual. Depending on the severity of the PR crisis, it could take some significant action to woo customers and fans back into the proverbial trust circle. For retail brands, this might include special offers, new discounts, and a more proactive customer service process that shows customers they’re appreciated and important.

For both retail and other organizations, another important facet of repairing relationships after a PR crisis is to raise the perception of the brand in the minds of key audiences. A message that says something along the lines of, “Yes, we messed up, but that’s not us. This is what we’re really all about…” can go a long way toward repairing the perception of the company. This could mean content showing community involvement, investment in causes important to the target audience, or a full-on positive brand reputation campaign. Or it could be some or all of these.

The goal with all of these actions is to reset the brand’s reputation in a way that makes other aspects of what it does more important and more front-of-mind than the mistake. This process may take many forms, but it’s up to the brand communicators to craft the narrative, make it connective, and keep it relevant to the right audiences.