Time is Ticking: Navigating a Rapidly Spreading Brand Crisis

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It’s all too easy to spread a message, true or not, online these days. Often, a PR team is too late to jump before a message is spread incorrectly. And in some cases, a negative message on social media isn’t always going to turn into a bigger problem. But when the time is ticking and a message is spreading quickly, there are many ways to combat this for a shrewd PR team.

First, it’s important to establish the importance of a perceived issue or threat. Often, a negative message doesn’t turn into a viral storm of like-minded messages, and these cases don’t warrant a full-scale public relations response. Determining this is the first step before bringing in the whole team to address a problem.

Let’s use an example of a retail store that has a nationwide presence and a large following on social media. A customer has a poor experience in one of the retail stores and takes to Reddit to air their displeasure. On the subReddit they choose, the follower count is fairly low — under 1,000 — and the interactions with the post are not such that would indicate a viral response.

Although the customer is airing their poor experience for all to hear, the post isn’t gaining much traction. This sort of “echo chamber” type of scenario is one that would exemplify one that did not warrant a full-scale PR damage control response. In this instance, it may be sufficient to reach out to the user individually to address his or her concerns.

In some cases, posting a public statement or response to a perceived crisis or threat can actually backfire. If the brand had posted publicly about this singular issue, then the damage could be more widespread.

However, in other cases, a rapid and diligent response is absolutely warranted. For example, the customer who had a poor experience could take to Twitter and start an entire conversation that invites others to share their negative experiences with the same brand. In this case, on a more public forum, misinformation can be more difficult to mitigate.

The response in this sort of environment should be as individual as possible. This accomplishes a couple of different things. First, more individualized responses — replying to individual tweets instead of posting one mass statement tweet, for example — can help the disgruntled customers feel heard. To take the time to reach out to each response and treat it as an individual can make a lot of inroads in regaining that customer’s trust. Second, this helps prevent further spread of the information or negativity because the conversations are more contained in a singular thread.

Having the savvy to navigate the intricacies of the online conversation is a skill that every public relations professional should be honing each day. In an environment in which information can spread quicker than wildfire, it’s important to have a proper crisis response protocol, as well as a scale that determines the severity of a threat. Managing negative information online presents a challenge, but it’s far from impossible to navigate with a strong public relations and response team that knows how to manage online platforms with class and tact.

Ronn Torossian, 5WPR CEO

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Ronn Torossian is CEO & Founder of 5WPR & one of America’s most notable PR executives. He is the Author of best-selling PR book, “For Immediate Release.“

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