Crisis: The effects of social media and one thing every small business should do

The effects of crisis on businessToday I want to share about a topic that every company, regardless of size, will face: crisis.  And inevitably, the crisis will go public.  A public relations crisis can come in many forms and sizes.  It may be small and centered around poor customer service,or it may be huge and centered around the injury or death of a customer.

In a recent business survey, a staggering 50% of respondents indicated their business doesn’t follow a crisis communications plan.  <- Tweet this!

As a small business, the only strategy that will help your company survive a crisis is planning for it.  At myMarketing Cafe our Marketing Tookit section walks you through the planning process.  Our information in this section is geared toward marketing your business, but the research you conduct can be used to help you create a crisis plan.

In step one of the French Press planning process, we ask you to conduct an environmental scan of your industry. We also ask you to conduct a SWOT analysis of your company where you identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.  It’s during this time that you will uncover potential issues and can use this information to identify possible solutions to the issues and help mitigate your risk.

For purposes of this blog, I will focus on social media and its effects on a PR crisis.  The biggest story in the news recently has been how Progressive Insurance interacted with its audience when news aired about Progressive’s service around a fatal accident.  What outraged the audience was the cold, seemingly canned responses Progressive made in the Twitter and Facebook realms.  This is a perfect example of why we at the cafe, beg you not to use those automated response systems and social media dashboards that send out auto replies through all your social media channels.  They don’t allow you to correctly respond during times of crisis.  And a canned response can do irreparable damage.  The risk is just not worth the time you might be saving.

Your crisis plan will help you determine the best course of action dealing with a crisis. Planning helps you identify potential crises, gives you time to thoroughly research what options are available to you, and allows you to determine the best way to handle them. You also have the luxury of testing your responses with a focus group audience and seeking legal advice.  Not developing a crisis plan leaves you open to knee-jerk reactions that could ultimately close your doors for the last time.

A challenge mentioned with the Progressive incident was that regulated industries have to follow confidentiality laws.  If something outrageous happens to a patient, a hospital cannot address the issue around the patient because of confidentiality.  Something tragic happened to one of Progressive’s clients and, by law, they can’t talk in-depth about the situation.  But saying nothing is not the answer, and offering a canned response is not the answer.

When developing your crisis communications strategies, following a flow chart can show you how a crisis could affect your business.  In an example like what Progressive faced, a flow chart shows a potential crisis, it identifies possible audience reactions, and it reveals that the system is set up to generate an auto-reply in response to a crisis.  Reviewing the flow chart, you would have seen the potential crisis coming and, hopefully, would see the ramifications of the auto-reply strategy you have in place.  Then, you could have changed your social media tactics.

Back to research, when you conduct your environmental scan and search for resolutions to possible crises, use the experiences of others to help you build your strategies. Look for examples and case studies, like the Progressive example, to help ensure you don’t make the same mistakes.

Social media is fast-paced and people expect immediate responses, which is why so many companies use the auto-reply dashboards.  However, during times of crisis, our natural reaction is to carefully plan our response.  This natural propensity to delay, coupled with the small amount of text space we have to share our concern or our planned response, adds to our problem.  Jason Falls, a digital marketing consultant and contributor to NBC’s coverage of Progressive, gives advice we also recommend.  He recommends you prepare a dedicated web-page that includes the important information your audience needs to know about the issue and link to the page in your various responses.  We call this the online newsroom strategy.  It ensures that the facts are out there and available.  It also makes you the central source of information.

Don’t plan alone.  Engage your staff in all phases of planning, specifically crisis planning.  Your staff is an invaluable resource.  They are involved in areas of the business that you might only see on occasion and can offer a new perspective.  What’s most important in planning your crisis response however, is that your response meets four requirements:  you show your human side, you offer deep condolences, you accept responsibility, and you share your resolution strategy.  The Johnson & Johnson Tylenol case study is a great resource to help with your planning.  All public relations practitioners are familiar with this case and consider it a crisis response strategy in itself.

Well, I’m facing a crisis:  I’m out of coffee.  I must resolve this issue and I invite you to do the same.  Happy planning, and please, let me know if I can help.

  • Marissa

    THA-AA-AAANK YOU! The Progressive debacle is embarrassing. I’m thankful to for this article and to see a professional shed light on what companies should do. Too often a plan is followed without thinking thoroughly about the more appropriate actions needed. Operating as a robot is easy and lazy–taking the time to evaluate each situation will not only protect your reputation, it’s what every executive is required to do.