For any business owner or leader (and their PR person), a PR crisis is not something you want to deal with! With lots of crises in the newsBusiness PR Crisis lately, there are many examples of how these things can take on a life of their own. Certainly, BP got lots of black eyes during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. #kaizenblog’s co-host, Valeria Maltoni shared in her post, Live Crisis in Digital a few other situations that need some PR finesse.

But the spotlight really goes on Danny Brown, our guest host for #kaizenblog, this past Friday. His post, Saving Face When Your Company’s Doors Are Blown Off, began the conversation that was lively and full of resources and advice of what to do when things go haywire publicly for your business. You can find all of the tweets and links here in the transcript Transcript for #kaizenblog – SavingCoWhenDoorsBlowOffpdf

We jumped into the conversation with our first question…How does social media really change the playing field during a PR crisis?

Brown explained, “It helps immensely. Folks look at negatives, but SM offers huge scope to “correct” crisis.” Perhaps this answer was not what most people expected as one thinks how stories can go viral online. However, it can give you an opportunity to connect with people in real time. He also added, “It allows you to address negativity head-on, and on the “complainers” turf – great pacifier”

Other perspectives that were offered:

  • Same Day Repair (@samedayrepair) “It’s vitally important that solid relationships are built before a crisis happens.”
  • Amber Cleveland (@ambercleveland) “Q1 gives fast, responsive way to state position and fast track cos PR during crisis”
  • Stephen Denny (@Note_To_CMO) “Social media gives a crisis a human face with immediacy. A 1 to 1 opp to have a dialog in the midst of the noise”
  • Heidi Cool (@hacool) “SM also lets biz speak directly to customers/public not just to (and through) media”
  • Mitchell Schecter (@MSchecter) “As a brand, I think it can help to tell your side of the story if you are already there and have a relationship.”
  • Patrick Prothe (@pprothe) “SM offers immediacy of response, but it also requires one to stay on top of it; you must engage or others will take the floor”

These seemed to really resonate based on the number of retweets and comments that went back and forth. Amy Fowler (@amyfowler) added this caution, “Social media spreads crisis info like wildfire — but in “telephone game” way. What’s being spread isn’t necessarily true. But fortunately, you can monitor all those “telephone game” messages and respond, instead of just wondering.” Go Media Center (@goprotools) added “SM is having a conversation with the consumer not at the consumer…two way conversation! Listening is required”

With the frequency of messages focusing on relevancy of messages and listening to consumers, it seemed to make sense to ask the next discusssion question. What can you do while you evaluate the situation? Responding with too little information or from an angle that leaves people feeling unheard or disrespected tends to provide fuel for a difficult siuation to get magnified. So responding properly is important but frequently information is needed to make the best choices. Brown recommended that you “Be open as to what you’re doing (as far as you can legally) and show progress all the way through” Not being sure if he was referring to a specific area of legality, I asked him to elaborate. He reminded us that there may be “people’s privacy and livelihoods” as well as intellectual property issues.

This was echoed by others in the chat:

  • Caroline Di Diego (@CASUDI) “listen first. understand second. respond third”
  • Meg Fowler “Monitor key voices, gauge tone, check where messages spread fastest, and then start there.”
  • Laura Crum (@LauraLCrum) “A2 – don’t stop communicating. traditionally it’s looking down upon to be weak, to be wrong, but SM should be more open”
  • Heidi Cool “1st thing is to publicly state you are evaluating the situation. Keep folks updated step by step. “
  • Amber Cleveland “Let people know you are assessing, that you are trying to get to the bottom of a given situation (then figure it out FAST)
  • Deb Morello (@debmorello) “Ah, listen, listen, communicate internally – Respond, listen again, respond again. Repeat”

Danny Brown summed up this way, “I’d rather be dealing with a company that screws up but acknowledges and talks to me where I am (where poss) and collaborate with the key “complainers” and work with them, their audience, to work and resolve.”  

Some of the tweets were starting to trend towards what is happening internally within the company with the crisis. Kristin Judd (@kwjudd) noted, “Co’s seem to feel it’s not okay to say, ‘We don’t know but we’re committed to finding the answer.’ ” A sub-question of the second discussion question sought to illuminate what’s going on. What are the beliefs/thinking hazards when your company when your company experiences a crisis?

  • Amber Cleveland “1 limiting belief is that in an emergency everyone needs to be running around screaming. Focus and calm are key.”
  • Stephen Denny “Co’s need more than acknowledgement of crisis. Need to provide movement, accountability + commitment to fixing”
  • Heidi Cool “A2 – make sure to involve more than top execs in response strat. cust svc., sales and others may have better feel for audience
  • Cathy Larkin PR (@CathyWebSavvyPR) “Q2a – beliefs/hazards – If co gets to defensive, “lawyers up” too early = equals suspicion from other side”

It seems that it is important to not let emotions run your decision making and send out the wrong message. This goes for non-profits as much as for-profits. Cathy Larkin tweeted an interesting situation she was involved with when she worked for a non-profit. Also, keeping flexibility in the plan makes a difference as well. Crises don’t really lend themselves to cookie-cutter responses so listening to your market audience helps you engage them in a conversation that leads to solutions.

It’s a given that companies don’t always get it right when interacting publicly during a PR crisis. How do you recover from a botched reaction? Danny Brown advised, “First, allay fears that you are taking seriously and looking into it, and if it *is* your fault, own up”

There were a lot of tweets that suggested that a botched reaction could be salvaged:

  • Stephen Denny “The public has the attention of a fruit fly. If your 1st response is wrong, make your 2nd and 3rd right. Learn from it”
  • Meg Fowler “You admit your mistake to  the depth of your mistake. Don’t self flagellate on your customer’s behalf”
  • Patrick Prothe “RE: Q3 – apologize, admit the botch & move on-helpfully, authentically. But never w/ more spin. The cover up=what gets you”

At the end of the chat, Brown reminded us that we can “…feel safe that in knowledge that you’re not first, you won’t be last. See how others dealt and act accordingly.” Taking the time to review the process after the crisis has passed seems like a practice that would make sense. If you’re interested in being in business for a long while, you’re bound to encounter a crisis. It could be small or large. The question is, how do you want to handle it?

How do you answer the discusssion questions?

What would you do if an A-lister blogger or media person talks about your situation?