The Anatomy of Managing a Digital PR Crisis

In today’s digital age, it’s extremely easy for a business to make a critical mistake which gains massive exposure.  How do you deal with a public relations crisis that threatens your business? It’s not like these come at the best possible moment, when you’ve got extra time to kill and extra man hours to devote to the problem. To law firms, a crisis could have consequences that reach far beyond losing potential clients. With a little training, your business could come through a public relations crisis relatively unscathed.

Take for instance, KitchenAid’s recent Twitter foible, where they attempted to insert themselves into the presidential debate to gain some attention and increase their media mentions.  What started off as a good idea landed like a lead balloon when someone tweeted about Obama’s dead grandmother. At 6:40 the tweet landed, but by 12:00am, the negative press had died down.

Something interesting happened at KitchenAid. Within 8 minutes, KitchenAid apologized. And they cut the negative press off at the knees by the end of the night. Because they were paying close attention to the reactions to their communications, KitchenAid was able to avoid a media crisis that could potentially drag on and on and on. Media mentions and social media outrage peaked within the hour and by midnight, the public had moved past the tweets. The storm had passed.

What to Do if Your Business Makes a Critical Public Relations Mistake Online

Despite your best efforts, sometimes a business steps right into the middle of something.  In an effort to be creative, timely, or relevant, sometimes businesses go too far.  If your business has made a mess of your online communications, here’s what you can do:

  • Apologize.  Rip the proverbial band aid off and admit to your error in judgment. Acknowledge your mistake, honestly and sincerely apologize, and express a desire to do better. By acknowledging your mistake, you stand a much better chance of people getting over the incident quicker.
  • Engage your audience quickly.  The longer you stay silent, the longer you allow the story, the negative press, and customer outrage to grow. Call upon your crisis communications team to decide upon messaging, position, and direction while the story is beginning, not after it has spread like a deadly online virus.
  • Tell the good news stories to break up the negative press.  If you’ve been hit with some negative press, counter it with a positive response that shows you’re taking responsibility to do better.  Did you publicly call someone a racial slur? Once you’ve decided on a position going forward, tell the good news story about how it’s prompted you to give sensitivity training to the staff, how you’re now working with the local human relations group to create a culture of tolerance at your business.
  • Do not mimic the same terminology used. Repeating the same keywords will add fuel to the fire, pushing these keywords into online audiences’ minds. Seek to replace them with more positive words. You do not want your business forever associated with scandal.

Expect that your crisis, depending on how bad it is, could continue to seem worse before it gets better.  But if you’re vigilant about protecting your online reputation and engaging in effective crisis communications, you could potentially emerge relatively unscathed.  Or you could take a cue from many businesses who have chosen to ignore the crisis and participate in a public bloodletting.

What Can Happen If You Ignore an Online PR Crisis

Ignoring a crisis and hoping it will go away is not a realistic strategy.  Unfortunately, it’s a recipe for disaster. Businesses who have chosen to stay silent amid big changes and scandals risk fanning the flames and encouraging curiosity.  This can lead to the following consequences:

  • SEC filings
  • Congressional hearings
  • BAR restrictions/ reprimands
  • Loss of customers/ clients
  • Loss of income/ profit
  • Cancellation of contracts
  • Bankruptcy
  • Jail time

Communications is Key

Many professional businesses, such as law firms, don’t understand the need for effective communications.  To many attorneys, no comment is a common and preferable answer.  But to a public relations professional, we often see that more explanation is necessary to win back public opinion. There is a happy medium where you can avoid negative legal ramifications while using the media effectively.

If you’ve got a dilemma that’s plaguing your business, give eLaw Attorney Marketing a call and we’ll navigate you through the storm.