Thanks to the rise of the Internet and other innovative technologies, digital information consumption is exploding. Consumers’ preferences to intake information digitally has been a steadily increasing trend over the past two decades, even sparking some of the largest print publications such as Newsweek and PC Magazine to adopt an all-digital format. While this is incredibly convenient and useful for consumers, there exists a certain set of newly-introduced challenges for brands.
Because of the nature of digital, brands have two primary concerns: immediacy and perpetuity. It’s hard to erase your digital footprint. In fact, if you’re 30 or younger, you probably remember lectures in school about watching what you put online so it doesn’t come back to haunt you. The same goes for brands. If there is something said about you, or something that you said (think social scandals), it only takes a matter of seconds before the news can spread like wildfire in our culture of shares and likes. Likewise, once it’s out on the big, bad World Wide Web, there’s no going back.
So, how do you manage your brand reputation in this type of digital environment? Whether you’re experiencing a huge, public scandal that’s hitting every major publication in the United States or experiencing a few negative reviews or tweets bashing your company, here are five guiding principles to keep your communications approach in check:
- Be Timely: The first 24 hours of any crisis are crucial. Be sure that you can set the tone early on and address any concerns quickly. Avoid saying “no comment”, as this always alludes to the fact that you may be ‘guilty’. The same goes for no response at all. Never hide from a public problem. At the same time, ensure that you gather all the facts before you provide a response. If you don’t have time to gather all the facts, communicate that. Address the immediate concerns at hand and educate stakeholders that you are gathering the necessary information, but will provide updates accordingly. There is always something to be said.
- Be Thoughtful: This may be one of the most important considerations. People don’t want to hear from a brand or a logo, they want to hear from a person. This is especially critical for large-scale crises that are impacting a large number of stakeholders. Make sure your communications acknowledge the feelings and/or thoughts of others. Regardless of the facts, the point is that you have upset someone (or several people) and it’s important to address that before proceeding with further communication. People want to feel that they are heard and valued. Until that happens, they won’t hear anything else that you have to say.
- Be Honest: We can thank our moms for this solid life lesson. Honesty takes you a long way. It applies to both to personal situations and professional ones as well. If you screwed up, just own it. No one wants to hear excuses or lies, and they will only come back to haunt you. It certainly doesn’t feel good to have to own up to a mistake (or even a flat out deceptive practice), however, you’d be surprised at how forgiving the public can be over time and with clear communication about next steps for correction and prevention. Making false claims only digs you into a deeper hole, just ask Volkswagen.
- Be Proactive: The worst thing you can do is wait until something happens to take action. Make sure you’re proactive in your communications approach by monitoring the media. This goes for your brand, but also competitors and policies in your space. Is there a new legislation that just passed that will impact how you conduct business? It’s better to be aware of that and take the appropriate steps to correct things before you’re publicly shamed for your violations. Likewise, if there’s something negative being said about your brand, you want to be the first to know and have a chance to take necessary action. Furthermore, make sure you also have a plan in place. If there is one negative article that is posted, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your company should release a press statement. Instead, maybe you’d want to personally contact that reporter and clarify any inaccuracies. The point is, there are different approaches for each situation. Know what those approaches might be and who within the company will handle them. Lastly, make your own news. Be proactive about sharing all the great things your company is doing and make sure you’re being seen by the right people.
- Be Thorough: Consider all of your stakeholders. Just because you are concerned about stopping or overpowering negative press, doesn’t mean that there aren’t others who need to hear from you. Employees, shareholders, investors – these are all people who deserve personalized, customized communications to address their specific concerns. Let’s say the company is in a lot of financial distress. Most people will be concerned that the company may go under, but for different reasons. Speak to these audiences individually and personally. And always make sure to fact-check. This was mentioned earlier, but never say something if you aren’t 100% sure that it’s true. If you aren’t sure, don’t say it.
Anything we left out? Share your advice with us in the comments below.