Don't Focus on the Fumble; Focus on the Recovery

  |  August 7, 2012   |  Comments

Three things you should keep in mind to help your brand navigate smoothly through PR storms.

Making mistakes during the course of building your brand is inevitable, but how your company reacts to these fumbles will either further or hinder your company's cause. By ensuring that your community and PR teams are closely integrated, they can work together to ensure the best way to manage the public's concerns over a particular issue.

Recent headlines about Chick-fil-A have highlighted how the fast-food chain's CEO weighed in on one of the United States' most controversial social issues instead of simply sticking to promoting the company's brand. The CEO's public decree caused The Jim Henson Company - creator of The Muppets and a Chick-fil-A partner - to renounce said partnership publicly and pull its merchandise from the chain's stores. Ouch.

To further complicate things, Chick-fil-A was accused (very publicly) of creating and using a false Facebook account to come to the defense of Chick-fil-A regarding the removal of Henson merchandise. The "Abby Farle" account - complete with a stock photo - was exposed as a fraud by the Facebook community and the story was picked up by several major news sites. Despite company reps denouncing the idea, the public reality is the appearance of a "cover-up," which then causes community trust in Chick-fil-A to erode.

To help your brand navigate smoothly through these PR storms, here are a few things you should keep in mind:

  1. Honesty is the best policy. The ethical rule we all remember from our childhood is equally applicable to brands. If your brand makes a mistake, then fess up to it, and fast, because waiting can make your apology seem inauthentic or forced. Case in point: last year Citibank suffered a security breach but waited weeks to notify affected customers. Customers were outraged and politicians began drafting legislation to prevent future notification delays. The moral here is the sooner you address the mistake, the sooner you can frame the conversation and potentially seize the opportunity to shift the mistake into a demonstration of your company's preparedness, not the other way around.
  2. Accept blame. Once a mistake is made, then directly address your customers via social media, your blog, or a press release. Tell your customers exactly what happened, who is affected, and accept the blame without deflecting or denying. Passing the buck to someone or something else will just make your brand seem self-absorbed and untrustworthy and ultimately will make your customers lose respect for your brand.
  3. Join the conversation. Due to innovations in technology, communication between brands and their customers is easier than ever and practically real time. Brands are now expected to have an ongoing conversation with their most avid customers through social media or an online customer forum. This type of integrated communication with customers can ensure your company places them first and by doing so, decreases the chance of making a costly mistake. An example of a company failing to keep customers in mind is when Netflix increased the price of one of its popular services by 60 percent. This action demonstrated that Netflix was out of touch with its customers and caused many to leave the service. Don't let your brand learn the hard way - start a conversation with your fans, keep it going, find out what is important to them, and deliver.

Following the steps above won't prevent missteps from occurring, but it can make the recovery from them easier; and in the process you may gain new customers who respect your brand's honesty.


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Laney Whitcanack

Laney Whitcanack is Federated Media Publishing's chief community officer. Prior to joining FM, Laney co-founded BigTent in 2006 and focused on innovating online and offline ways to connect people with communities they care about. She spent the decade previous to BigTent coaching and training hundreds of community leaders, in the U.S. and Mexico, most recently as the director of community programs for the Coro Center for Civic Leadership.

A published author and speaker on entrepreneurship and community organizing, Laney received the Jefferson Award for Public Service in 2008. She is currently a board member of Zeum: San Francisco's Children's Museum and The Princess Project and is involved in even more community groups after the birth of her daughter, Campbell, last year. Laney has a B.A. from UCLA, and MBA from the Simmons School of Management, and an Ed.M from Harvard University.

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