In the fall of 1982 several people lost their lives by consuming cyanide laced tablets someone had placed inside packages of Tylenol. The suspect was never identified. With no suspect all the blame could easily have been directed at the brand. Tylenol’s parent company, Johnson & Johnson, took swift action and immediately recalled every bottle of the painkiller. This would end up costing the company millions. Because of this decision, Johnson & Johnson was viewed as a victim of circumstance–a company that prioritized safety over profit. They issued public warnings and created a national hotline where reporters could receive updates as well as customers. In the end, Tylenol ended up recovering its losses. As Time magazine reported, “Tylenol relatively quickly re-established its brand. Though things could have gone very differently, the episode’s most lasting legacy has been in the annals of public relations, not poison control: the case has since become a model for effective corporate crisis management.”
Can you imagine what might have happened if this had occurred within our current digital landscape? The sheer amount of disinformation spread from social media posts and memes is mind boggling. This is a prime example of why it is important to stay on top of communication during a crisis. If you provide direct information to your clients they will seek it from you and not from a meme. This means you must actively update information as it is available. Keep the conversation at home. Don’t allow the misinformation train to pick up your clients and take their focus elsewhere.
It is absolutely crucial to have a plan in place for effective crisis communication. It can make or break client relationships. In this age of fast-moving technology, customers want answers immediately–especially when problems arise. How can you prevent a crisis from spiraling into pure chaos? Position yourself to be readily interactive.
Crisis communication can be effectively handled through platforms such as mobile apps and social media. Active communication is not only key in building your brand, it is imperative to managing information when you need to reach your clients quickly.
In the digital age, a business must have resources in place to navigate these issues. This is the time that your clients need you the most. “In today’s fast-moving, electronic world, your reputation could be enhanced or denigrated in a moment,” says Ed Powers, a PR faculty lead at Northeastern University-Boston. “With the rise of digital and social media, customers expect a quick response to any issues that arise, because companies have the technology to address them. In most cases, if you don’t respond within the first few hours, people typically jump to two conclusions: that the brand is guilty or that it’s not in control of its message.”
Keep it real. Don’t try to massage your message to make it seem more palpable for your audience. Honesty sells. Be transparent in all your communication. According to the Center of Creative Leadership, “No one has all the answers right now. But acting like you do will damage your credibility and your ability to connect with your people. Be honest and embrace the ambiguity of the situation, but also share what you’re able to. People will appreciate and resonate with honest, direct messaging.” That’s how you build trust and fortify customer loyalty.
When it comes to social media platforms, you may feel that you’re being repetitive if you continue sharing information after your initial post. That is never the case. Always maintain communication during a crisis. “To stand out above the noise, don’t just rely on one particular medium or platform. Remember the 3 R’s: review, repeat, and reinforce. If information is shared only once (or through one medium), you cannot be sure that everyone has received it — or if they did, that they understand it” and “if in doubt, err on the side of over-communicating and sounding redundant, rather than under-communicating and running the risk of people not hearing or understanding your message.” (CCL)
To keep from being seen as neglectful or irresponsible in the eyes of your customer, stay on top of the situation as much as possible. If you notice your business is receiving negative feedback on a specific social media platform–address it ASAP. “The longer you leave the commentary unanswered, the stronger, and angrier, the audience will become. In today’s digital age, minor missteps can become major crises within minutes.” (Northeastern)
Always stay ahead of the curve by maintaining consistent communication with your clients. Show them your company is actively listening and concerned with their needs. Maintain the focus of your company’s mission statement. Prove to your clients that your company takes responsibility for mistakes and is willing to do what it takes to make it right–in a timely manner. If you can do this regularly with the small things, they will be more apt to trust your response to bigger issues.
Updates provide a chance to let your clients know you are working to solve their problems as well as providing them with information as it becomes available. “The more prepared you are, the better. Crises can have a negative effect on your company’s reputation, and you want to minimize the impact. If you have a good reputation, the issue might cause less damage, but if you haven’t focused on fostering community, it’s likely the criticism will be harsher if a situation strikes. If a crisis does occur, you have the opportunity to spotlight your values and actually enhance how you’re seen by the public.” (Northeastern) That can make all the difference to your clients.