I joined a Brand Storytelling Challenge the other day. I’ve been more and more fascinated with branding this year: the different elements, processes, touchpoints, asset management, best practices, etc. As I was researching some of these things, I came across a book chapter reputation management.
“It takes years to build a brand, but only a nanosecond for a poorly managed crisis to ruin it.” – Alina Wheeler, Designing Brand Identity.
So how do you, as a business owner, avert a crisis? You can’t. Things are going to go sideways. It’s inevitable. What you can do, however, is plan for it; get ahead of it; and be ready for it because, if you’re running your business the right way, you already have a plan in place.
Here are 4 things I learned about crisis communications:
- Ask and answer critical planning questions. Do you have a crisis team? Do you already have a plan and, if so, is everyone familiar with it? Legal counsel? Organizational protocol? Spokesperson? Ready-made key messages?
- Take proactive steps in developing/revising your plan. Retain outside counsel. Create a crisis team and connect it with said counsel. Anticipate crisis points. (Think canned beverages. If tariffs on aluminum drive up the cost of soda, there should be a response already in place ahead of any backlash.) Like I said things will go sideways. Sometimes it’s beyond your control.
- There are absolute musts in preparing a plan. Keep it current. Get ahead. (See number 2). Move quickly. Ideally, share your position before the story breaks. Sticking with the aluminum can example, it would be wise for a canned beverage producer to acknowledge that there may be a potential issue coming down the pipe and share with their consumer base what their position is. If they don’t know what’s going to happen, they should say they don’t know. Honesty and transparency are much more valuable now than silence.
- Master social. Ironically, as often as brands get this wrong, this might be the easiest principle of reputation management. Create a policy. Have an internal monitor. Respect the opinions of all of your participants. Don’t delete negative comments or negative reviews unless they violate a pre-established policy governing the content of a feed. These are usually reportable offenses: hate speech, criminal activity, harassment, bullying, and so on.
There are way more than 4 principles of crisis management, but let me close with this. A plan is a part of a larger, internal ecosystem. It needs engagement and regular attention in order to thrive. It needs to be updated as new technologies emerge, as new services or products are added, as new laws are passed, as costs of production rise, and as you scale. Without a plan you’re in Warren Buffet territory:
“If you lose money for the firm, I will be very understanding. If you lose reputation for the company, I will be ruthless.”
Shudder the thought.