by Angela Stringfellow, www.openforum.com July 18, 2012
Check out some of the top tips from public relations experts that can help small businesses prepare and address a PR crisis. Find out how social media can help you monitor/prepare for a PR disaster.
We’ve all seen the news stories about a local company in the midst of a PR crisis. It may be because the owner was arrested for driving under the influence or an employee was caught embezzling. It may be something much worse, like a product they create has been linked to cancer.
Here are some top tips from public relations experts that can help small businesses prepare and address a PR crisis.
Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best
One of the most integral components of public relations management is the plan itself. Most public relations experts will tell you that regardless of business size, product or services provided or the nature of the business, a basic plan in case of a crisis is essential.
According to Lakeshia Poole, senior manager at PR firm Golin Harris, the plan should identify the steps to be taken in the event of a crisis and should identify key personnel who will be responsible for internal and external communications. “It’s impossible to plan for all of the potential things that could happen, but creating a plan definitely gives you a foundation and a sense of how to handle the situation,” said Poole.
Avoid Uttering the Words “No Comment”
Elizabeth Johnson, director of public relations and content development at Frost Miller Group, says attempting to defuse the media with a “no comment” response often makes the crisis linger longer. Instead, she suggests addressing the situation head on. She also recommends creating transparency for your employees and your customers, proactively tackling the situation before it becomes publicly known.
Be accountable for your actions
The court of public opinion is often quick to convict, but admitting to the problem can help calm the situation. Kenneth Kracmer, managing partner and PR director at HCK2, says, “The best course of action is to accept all immediate responsibility. Do not point fingers. The court of public opinion favors those who step forward, admit fault and take action to make it right.”
Use the Power of Social
Don’t go radio silent in the face of a crisis. Utilize your networks to share your side of the story, how you’re working to resolve the issues and how to ensure that something similar will never happen again. Communicate with your fans and followers, addressing legitimate concerns as they’re presented, being careful not to create any further crises.
JoAnna Dettmann and Kaysha Kalkofen, co-founders of tSunela.com, a digital marketing firm, also recommends monitoring all social media outlets. They suggest:
- Check Google Places; it’s a good idea to get into the habit of checking your Google Places listing at least every week to monitor the reviews and make sure that your company’s information is correct and up-to-date.
- Set up Google Alerts for your company so you’ll know whenever you’re being mentioned in the media.
- Use a social media monitoring services (like Hootsuite) to provide data on social media mentions across platforms.
The Crisis of One
For some small businesses, the loss of just one customer due to poor PR is just as detrimental as a community-wide scandal. And, in a social media world, the power of a single disgruntled customer can create more bad publicity than ever before. For small businesses concerned about that, David Burrows, vice president of corporate marketing and public relations at Cinsay, Inc., suggests:
- Acknowledge the situation to the customer immediately and hear them out.
- Offer an apology followed by a customized resolution to the individual and the problem.
- Share the experience via social media–especially the outcome, what was learned and why it is important to resolve problems for your customers.
- Follow up with the customer personally and extend a “thanks for being a customer” along with a gift certificate, coupon, etc.
Don’t be blindsided by a public relations nightmare. Keep lines of communication open between your customers, your employees, your vendors and anyone you do business with. Being proactive and prepared is half the battle if and when a crisis occurs. And, if you find yourself in above your head, consider turning to a PR firm or a freelance specialist who can advise you on handling the crisis.