Recently I have been fascinated by the sheer volume of instances where a company finds itself facing a ‘crisis.’ Many of the stories I have seen actually show how an organization manages to turn an unpleasant occurrence into a crisis. Reading or viewing the actions taken by corporate executives or government spokespeople, it appears that in most cases there isn’t anyone who is completely cognizant of what is taking place. They seem to believe that they can offer up a prepared statement that the lawyers drew up, that says nothing and means nothing, and the issue will go away. As a result, their analysis of the situation and their subsequent responses often fall short. They forget a fundamental truth. A crisis is based on perception and the public’s perception of most things today is shaped by social media..
Social media reaches almost every nook and cranny of our world and as a result, it has the ability to change how the public views a brand. People are no longer content to mutter quietly when they feel they have been wronged or when they don’t agree with a comment or action. People today are more likely to express their displeasure in the open and when they do quite often they will find a sympathetic or at least an empathetic audience. The reaction of the audience, how they perceive the truth about what they see or hear can generate problems. People also live in a world where the headline is the story, and where the negative is thought of as much more interesting than anything positive. There’s an old adage in TV news, “if it bleeds, it leads” and that holds true for social media.
When the official response fails to show an understanding of the scope of the problem, or at least how members of the public perceive it to be they tend to make a bad situation even worse. There are several ways the audience will show its displeasure. There will be an increase in hostility and anger, remember the Bud Light debacle, when the marketing director in a follow-up interview proceeded to insult the existing users of the product. There will be mistrust, clearly seen in the public response to how the Government publicly responded during the COVID crisis. In both of those instances, there was also a general feeling of apathy from many members of the audience because they just did not believe anything any of the spokesperson’s said. Is there anyway that companies can avoid having to spend millions to rebuild their image?
If you’re in marketing, think about your plan. Do your homework, make certain of the demographics that use your products. If you’re trying to expand your market penetration, make certain that your path isn’t going to alienate your current base. It’s ok not to take a stand on every political and social topic that comes along. Your goal is to sell products, generate a positive return on investment, not necessarily change the world. If the issue arises from an upset employee or a disgruntled customer, don’t blow off concerns that reach your desk. Yes, there are some things that will pass without you or any other corporate people having to make a comment, but not all will.
If you have a situation where a response is needed, then make certain that it is authentic and honest. If the person responding is a corporate executive who has spent most of their time sitting in an office or in board meetings they are most likely not used to speaking to the general public. Before they appear on camera or do an interview have someone with a background in interpersonal communications work with them. Make sure they are sincere and that their statement is accurate. They must be able to inspire trust that they will do the right thing.
It is far easier to remember what you said when you tell the truth then it is to remember a lie. In this day and age, a coverup rarely lasts forever and it is better to suffer short term embarrassment than to lie and pretend nothing happened. Or even worse, that your audience is too ignorant to know there’s a problem.
Remember the old scout motto, “Be Prepared.”