Have you ever experienced public criticism or a PR disaster? Business owners should always be prepared to deal with bad publicity and the effect it can have on their business. But the question is: how do you limit the damage and turn things around?
Negative PR is definitely hard to predict, and even harder to handle. To prevent bad publicity from spearheading into negative reactions, you can respond in a measured manner. Actually, the way you handle a negative story can make all the difference!
Here’s how to respond, ensuring that negative situation does not deteriorate any further:
- Be prepared, be proactive
This is a difficult piece of advice. But consider this: when you’ve had a bad PR hit, by and large, the route to take is – be proactive. Set up operating procedures for handling negative publicity, considering everything from an exposé on the national media to a hard-hitting online review. Decide on who is going to liaise with the media and pubic, if required. Remember on social media, having the wrong posts on Facebook or wrong tweets on Twitter can really spiral and a small complaint can go viral. Everyone already should know their roles, when the need comes up.
- Know your facts
Get your facts correct. A convincing response is usually one that invokes objective facts or statistics. When possible, quote third parties. Past recognition, company ratings and recommendations, even satisfied customers, will help you state your case. If you’re getting unfair negative publicity, respond as soon as possible with the correction – but be sure you’re right. If a negative story carries erroneous facts about your business, try contacting the journalist and let him/her know; then, firmly but politely, explain what was wrong and provide evidence. If any tough questions are asked and you’re not sure of an answer, the best response is to say you’ll get the information and get back to him, but make sure, you do that.
- Be proactive, but don’t overreact
It’s easy to be emotional or get defensive when attacked, especially if things get personal. Take a step back, think through rationally and then work out the action plan. Try to be proactive rather than reactive. You can also seek objective advice.
- If people want to defend you, let them
If you have trusted customers or partners who are willing to be quoted or are willing to post comments in your defense, by all means, let them. The essence of reputation is what others say about you in public. When customers complain about products or services on social media, don’t let the comments fester and worsen the situation. Offer to fix the problem or refund the money – or both; and try to take the dialogue offline as soon as possible. Use direct messages on Twitter, communicate privately on Facebook, and try to get the conversation out of the public space. Then solve the problem.
- When required, apologise
If your company has made an error, offer a prompt and sincere apology. Take responsibility, and more importantly, apologise and offer a plan to fix it. Denial only prolongs the story and encourages people to question your motivation. Ignoring bad publicity won’t make it go away. If you own the mistake, however, there’s less to talk about, it’s over faster, and your business and its critics get the chance to move on.
- Generate positive content, as part of your storytelling
Once the noise subsides, you can attempt to overcome negative or unflattering stories or comments with fresh, positive and searchable content – wherever possible. For instance, step up your blogging; offer to guest post on an industry site; get quoted in a trade publication or site.
At the end, ask yourself – is this an opportunity? Sometimes public criticism is actually a blessing in disguise. It can be a chance to correct a problem or improve a product or service offering. If appropriate, thank your critic and take advantage of the opportunity to work out a solution, to fix it.