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  • Natalie Markovits

Can you spot a brand reputation crisis before it hits?

Updated: Jul 11

Whoever said “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” never faced a brand reputation crisis. When a lot of people are talking about your brand in negative terms, it could lead to a drastic loss in market share, which can be difficult to regain, even if it’s triggered by something relatively insignificant or that’s not your fault.


2 foxes fighting between each other.

A brand reputation crisis can come in a number of different guises. For example, a Singapore brand of chips called Irvin’s Salted Egg Snacks faced a storm when a customer found a deep-fried lizard in their bag of crispy fish skins and posts complaining about the breach of hygiene went viral.


Pepsi had a rather different kind of situation when they ran a political comment ad featuring model Kendall Jenner. They chose the wrong person to communicate a social justice message and were bashed for seemingly making light of a serious topic. In another example, Facebook is just one of the many companies who’ve had to do public relations damage control after a data breach left users anxious about the safety of their personal details.


Game companies have found themselves facing a reputation crisis after making (what seemed to them to be) minor changes to the characters, objects, or options in a game. Gamers can be shocked and horrified when a character has too much power and a level becomes too easy, for example.


United Airlines’ brand crisis came in the form of a viral song titled “United Breaks Guitars.” The problem wasn’t just that United’s baggage handlers broke an expensive guitar belonging to musician Dave Carroll, but that the company completely failed to apologize, compensate Carroll, or even acknowledge their mistake. By the time the company offered Carroll $3,000 in compensation, they had lost untold millions of dollars in sales and even more off their stock price.


These are just a few examples of the serious impact that a brand reputation crisis can have on a company’s bottom line. Online reputation management can help avoid this kind of damage, both through quick and effective crisis management, and by taking steps to prevent a crisis in the first place.


The impact of crisis management done right


In the aforementioned examples, Irvin’s managed to defuse the brewing crisis and quickly rehabilitate their brand reputation. The CEO sent the affected customers a personal apology; the public relations team got in touch immediately to offer to pay compensation and medical fees; and the company called in the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) straight away to inspect the premises and reassure the public that their products were still safe to eat.


In contrast, United Airlines refused to address Carroll’s complaint until after he’d produced not one, but 3 music videos about it, all of which went viral. It was a classic example of how mishandling a relatively minor incident or negative review can create a widespread and damaging brand reputation crisis that keeps on rippling outwards.


We don’t know what went on behind the scenes in either company, but we do know that the difference between successful containment and complete disaster is a preexisting crisis management plan.


Every company needs a clear line of command for a PR crisis, so that everyone knows who is responsible for internal and external crisis communication, where the buck stops for health and safety issues, and who is on the crisis management team. The phone numbers and email addresses of all the crisis team members need to be in an easily accessible list, so you can alert everyone instantly when a crisis is brewing.


Crisis prevention is better than cure


Not surprisingly, it’s far better to prevent a brand reputation crisis from occurring than to deal with it after it’s hit. Even if you can’t prevent it, the sooner you know about it and activate your crisis plan, the more you can get ahead of the crisis and stop it from expanding.


Use your online reputation management platform to set alerts if your brand mentions suddenly leap in a certain geographic region, or in general across social media or reviews. A sudden spike in mentions means that either you did something great, or something terrible. If you’re just releasing a new product, deploying a new version, or moving into a new region, you should keep a particularly careful eye on your internal customer support tickets and external channels for a negative review, or an uptick in activity around your brand.


How to build an effective crisis management plan


If you’re not able to prevent a crisis, you need to set up a plan to respond both quickly and effectively.


1. Place all the information at your fingertips

A hand touching a keyboard.

You won’t be able to respond correctly unless you know exactly what caused the crisis, why people are so upset about it, and who is affected.


That means setting up a data system that aggregates information from the right internal streams, picking up every support ticket with keywords that relate to the crisis. Every customer-facing employee needs access to all the data.


You also need to use the relevant keywords to create workflows in your customer intelligence platform that grab every negative review, post, or comment from all your social media channels and review sites.


2. Prioritization is key

When dealing with an ongoing brand reputation crisis, it’s crucial to prioritize elements that could continue to inflame the situation before moving on to those that are already more or less contained.


For example, that means addressing complaints from the influencer with 53,000 followers before you respond to the guy with just 15, but you can’t prioritize efficiently unless you know each individual and can assess their relative influence.


3. Apply resources efficiently

No matter how big your company, you only have a finite number of customer support agents and marketing experts who can help put out fires and roll out your crisis management messaging, so don’t waste them.


Ensure that everyone is on the same project management platform, and use it to divide up the work and delegate it to the relevant individuals. Each ticket should be assigned to just one employee; you can’t afford to waste resources by having employees replicate each other’s efforts.


4. Prepare your messaging

You’ll need to already have the right messaging ready to go to address the problem. Your public relations team needs to work closely with customer support to make sure that everyone is aligned on the messaging. The same goes for any other employees that have a customer-facing role and might need to answer questions about the incident, but aren’t part of the public relations department.


The messaging needs to:

  • Communicate that you know about the issue and are working on it

  • Give some kind of timeline for correcting the problem

  • Be quick, concise, and non-accusatory


Once you’ve got the crisis management ball rolling, start thinking about crafting a press release to rehabilitate your brand’s reputation after you’ve put out the most immediate fires and the crisis has passed. A press release that outlines the specifics of the crisis, acknowledges your mistakes, and/or contains a simple apology is a good idea. Support your post-crisis press release with cross-channel messaging that includes social media.


Affogata can help you cope with a brand reputation crisis


The Affogata platform has a number of tools that help companies to prevent, mitigate, and respond to a brand reputation crisis in the best possible way. When you set the right alerts, Affogata’s online reputation management feature can spot a rise in your brand mentions at the earliest opportunity, identify the sentiment, and notify you through Slack and/or WhatsApp, so you can step in to defuse the issue before it turns into a crisis.


Once you’re already facing a crisis, Affogata can stop you from being overwhelmed by the number of people clamoring for your attention across multiple channels. Affogata helps you prioritize people and issues so that you can deal with the right problem at the right time. Choose which influencers to work with first, to control and resolve the incident as fast as possible.


The platform also brings together both your internal and external communication and social media channels, and funnels them all into a single location. This way your employees can view all the mentions and messages in one place, plus you can communicate across channels with a single announcement, avoiding the risk of overlooking someone.


A brand reputation crisis doesn’t have to be a catastrophe


When you use a tool like Affogata and configure brand mention alerts correctly, you can stay one step ahead of a potential brand reputation crisis. Even if a PR crisis hits, you can still avoid much of the fallout with a clear crisis management plan that unites all the data, applies your resources efficiently, and prepares the right messaging for the right person at the right time.


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