Our society is more polarized today than at any moment in recent memory. Our politics is divisive. Opinions have become more outspoken and outraged. Driving all of this is social media. Social media has allowed millions to have a voice and share their opinion. It is also a driving force in spreading disapproval of a brand when it takes a stand that someone disagrees with. The hashtag #Boycott followed by a brand’s name is one of the most popular ones on Twitter. Brands need to be prepared when this happens.
Here are a few examples.
A local Cracker Barrel in Indiana fired the wife of a man named Brad. Brad went on to social media to demand that Cracker Barrel explain why his wife was fired. His posts were picked up by people on social media with the hashtag #JusticeforBradsWife. The Cracker Barrel social media sites were inundated with comments and questions about Brad’s wife. Traditional media picked up the story which became a humorous running joke. Cracker Barrel ignored the posters and social media outcry. This led to a new hashtag #BoycottCrackerBarrel. The chain took a hit and its stock price went down.
Adidas made a tone-deaf move by sending out an email to Boston Marathon participants with the subject line, “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!” the day after this year’s marathon – just four years after the bombings at the 2013 marathon. The backlash was immediate. The hashtag #BoycottAddias started. Before it could gain traction and Adidas quickly issued a public apology saying, “We are incredibly sorry. There was no thought given to the insensitive email subject line we sent Tuesday. We deeply apologize for our mistake.”
The heartfelt public apology stopped #BoycottAddias in its tracks. It prevented the incident from turning into a negative three- to five-day story.
A result of #Boycott means that it is more important than ever to make sure that you are prepared with a statement supporting your decision if you are caught in the crosshairs of a boycott. Or if you feel like you’ve made a mistake, make sure the statement explains why you made the decision in the first place and what you are doing to fix the issue. Consumers want to know their voices are being heard and changes are being made.
Social media drives narratives. That cannot be emphasized enough. And it is particularly true during a crisis over customer service. More and more dissatisfied customers are taking to Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to express their displeasure over poor customer service or what they view as poor quality products. A case in point happened with the Twitter war between conservative author, Ann Coulter and Delta Airlines.
Coulter’s problems with Delta began, after the exit-row seat she reserved on her flight from New York to West Palm Beach was given away to a fellow passenger without any “explanation, compensation or apology” she claimed on Twitter. Delta’s social media team reached out via Twitter apologizing to Coulter and offering to compensate her the extra money she had paid. But that wasn’t the end of the Twitter war heard around the world. Coulter took again to Twitter attacking Delta, its employees, and even the passenger who took her seat. Delta responded to her via Twitter defending its employees and passengers. The feud between Coulter and Delta was picked up by the news media and is still ongoing. Yet it raises the question in this social media driven age in which every tweet and post is analyzed, how should a company respond when under attack via social media?
These are some things a company should do and remember:
- Respond to the complaint. Ignoring it will only make the customer angrier and lead to others on social media joining in. Like Delta originally did, acknowledge a mistake if it was made, offer an apology, and finally offer a resolution. Always act as if your response will be viewed by the entire world because with the power of social media it probably will be.
- Stand up for the company if you are unfairly accused of something. In the case of Delta, the company stood up for its employees and passengers when Coulter’s tweets began attacking them. This showed a humanizing face for Delta and allowed the company also to stand up against false allegations. They also remembered that part of their brand identity is their employees and they defended that brand DNA that was under attack.
- Use humor and class in admitting a major mistake if possible. Social media can be abusive and snarky. If admitting a mistake, a company is always smart to use some self-depreciating humor in its response and take the high road. Anything else will make the social media crisis worse.
- Have a social media team that responds 24/7. Social media never rests and that why a company always needs to respond right away or else the social media firestorm will grow.
Social media complaints are never-ending. The key for companies is to respond to each in a way that it is one and gone. Failing to do so will ensure that the complaint becomes a full blown crisis on social media and then in the traditional media causing extreme brand damage.
Brands know that public relations is essential to success. It develops brand identity and reinforces ongoing marketing efforts. But to see strong success from public relations, certain elements must be in place.
What elements are critical and need to be in place for successful public relations?
- Effective Website: People need to be able to find you after they hear about you. Beyond that, when people land on your website, are they taking the action you want them? Your website needs to be designed for that. And this should go without saying, your website needs to be friendly on all devices.
- Powerful Call-To-Action: Your website needs to have a clear call-to-action allowing you to capture email addresses of those who come on it. It should offer an incentive that corresponds to your public relations message in exchange for that valuable contact information. Without effective lead capture, you’re missing out on all potential leads the public relations sends your way.
- Social Media Presence: The key to effectively using the public relations you have obtained is by promoting it. In this day and age, that means promoting the message on all social media platforms. You should have a strong, clear, and active social media platform with an engaged community when doing a public relations campaign.
Without these key elements in place when doing a public relations campaign, public relations is like striking it rich at the lottery. With these elements, public relations brings a strong return on investment not merely for brand identity but sales.
The major challenge for a business after a major crisis is regaining public trust. It has taken years for a business to build the trust and now that the crisis has hit, the business must begin rebuilding the trust again. It helps if the business had a reservoir of goodwill prior to the crisis and managed the crisis with a strong response. It cannot be emphasized enough that in having a strong crisis management plan in place during the crisis helps in the rebuilding.
So now moving forward what is to be done?
The first step is to explain now that the crisis has passed what steps the business is doing to ensure that it will never happen again. This message must be conveyed to the public, vendors, and internally to employees. This should be done in a strong way, outlining the specific steps that are being taken.
A greater emphasis on customer satisfaction and service is critical during this time period. Look at the steps United Airlines took after its disaster when a passenger was dragged off one of its flights.
The organization might want to look at developing a new mission statement as it emerges from the crisis. This should emphasize more than just profits. It should put a premium on customer service and making the world, the country, state, or city a better place.
Ethics and sensitivity training programs based upon the crisis should be instituted. This helps ensure that every employee knows the proper procedures and what is expected of them.
Also a greater emphasis should be placed on community outreach and charitable programs. This will help rebuild goodwill and also show that the company cares.
Rebuilding a reputation after a crisis doesn’t happen overnight but it can be done. Just as with the crisis, you need a strong plan for after the crisis to regain public trust.
Here are some useful tips for print interviews.
- Print interviews comprise of newspapers, magazines, and online news resources such as blogs.
- Are typically done over the telephone or via email.
- Unlike live radio interviews, if the interviewer stumbles or remembers something they want to add to the interview, they can go back to the answer.
- Always make sure you have a clear phone line.
- If you can’t hear a question ask them to repeat it.
- In print and online interviews, the more that you provide the better as your answers will be edited. So the more information that you provide, the greater the chance you make it into the story.
- Some print and online stories will be available the next day, some are for future stories that may not appear for several weeks or months.
- Never ask the reporter or blogger to read back your answers to you.
- Never demand to see the story beforehand.
- Always record the interview.
It cannot be stressed enough that any good public relations strategy should include a crisis communications plan. Too often brands and companies overlook this and when a disaster strikes, they are caught unprepared. One aspect of a crisis communications plan is determining who should be called in and consulted when the crisis hits and a response is needed.
So to paraphrase the movie, Ghostbusters, ‘who are you gonna call’ when a crisis strikes?
- The CEO/President – As Harry Truman famously said, “the buck stops here”, and that is particularly true during a crisis. The CEO/President is the public face of the company during a crisis. They set the public tone for the organization.
- General Counsel/Organization Attorney – A crisis often involves a legal issue. Any response during the crisis could have legal implications. A lawyer is essential to review and answer these questions.
- Company Communications Officer – This is the internal communications specialist who knows the company’s brand story and values. This person will work to ensure the company response corresponds with them and includes both internal and external audiences.
- Human Resources Officer – A crisis affects an organization’s employees. This person helps make sure that proper information is relayed to employees during the crisis and helps address any misinformation and concerns among employees.
- Social Media Officer – A major mistake many companies make during a crisis is forgetting to have a response on social media and to monitor social media. This person ensures that the social media response is consistent with the traditional media response.
- Outside Public Relations – This is an outside public relations professional who brings an outside and objective perspective to the crisis.
Identifying all the key players that are needed within the organization is essential for a cohesive crisis communications response when disaster strikes. Far too often, organizations waste precious time during a crisis in identifying what personnel are needed for the crisis.
Media interviews are a part of the media relations component of a public relations and branding campaign. It involves working with the media for the purpose of informing the public of an organization’s mission, policies, and practices in a positive, consistent, and credible manner. Positive media coverage reinforces and builds greater brand identity, creates a positive feeling among consumers, and helps build a reservoir of goodwill in case of negative news stories.
When doing a media interview, it essential to remember a few key points:
- Even in a positive story never consider the reporter as a friend.
- Nothing is ever off the record.
- Reporters will often record an interview. Sometimes they will tell the subject. Other times they will not. Some reporters use their smartphones without ever telling the subject.
- A smart rule is to make your own recording. If something is misquoted or taken out of context you have the response ready to rebut.
- You know far more about the subject than the reporter does. Most reporters do minimal research. They often get story ideas from social media, tips, or pitches from PR people. They are interviewing you as the expert.
- Never lie to a reporter.
- If you don’t have an answer readily available tell the reporter that and then get the answer as soon as possible.
- Make sure if a reporter is doing a story that they have all of your contact information.
Successful media interviews go a long way in establishing a positive brand reputation. Just like anything it takes practice and discipline to be successful.