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Seven tips for communicating in an online crisis

One of our favourite sayings at Quest PR is that good PR is “being in at the take-off and not just at the crash landing”.

In other words, don’t bring in a PR expert only when you have a crisis; ensure that good communications runs throughout your business so you are prepared for any incident that might have an impact on your reputation.

Digital media, including 24 hours news and social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, have had a dramatic effect on corporate reputations. These channels enable members of the public to become “citizen journalists” or to express anger and concern in an unprecedented way. A crisis or a reputational management issue for a brand can spread like wildfire online within hours as disgruntled customers take to a plethora of digital channels to express their anger.

Anyone doubting the power and speed of social media to break and spread bad news has only to look at an incident last month involving the sale of “mental health patient” fancy dress costumes by supermarket chains Asda and Tesco. The sale of the offending Halloween outfit on the Asda Direct site provoked outrage on Twitter with celebrity tweeters including former spin doctor Alastair Campbell and ex footballer Stan Collymore – both of whom have suffered from depression - expressing their disgust. Mental health campaigners, including charity Rethink Mental Illness, demanded on the social media site that Asda “please explain” why it was listing the product and asked for it be withdrawn.

Because Asda monitors its social media platforms it was able to respond within hours – taking to Twitter to issue statements. The costume was quickly withdrawn from sale; Asda apologised and promised it would make a “sizeable” donation (believed to be £25,000) to mental health charity Mind to apologise.

Following the controversy, Tesco also agreed to withdraw a similar Halloween costume from its website.

Despite Asda’s speed of response, the story still made national headlines the next day with the media using the Tweets to build their story. Many national journalists were actually involved in the Twitter conversation about the costumes so were watching the story gather speed in real time.

If the worst happens to your business what should you do? Here are seven simple steps to help handle your crisis communications:

1. Acknowledge the problem or crisis – say ‘we know’ what is happening and we doing something about it

2. Respond quickly – social media is immediate and bad news can go viral in moments

3. Stick to the facts and don’t speculate

4. Be honest and transparent and don’t try to cover up or fudge the issue

5. Respond on the social media platform where the crisis broke before posting across other social media

6. Say sorry or admit you are wrong

7. Let people know you’ve done that or are doing to address the situation

We always advise businesses to document the incident or crisis. Examine what has happened, debrief all staff involved. What are the lessons you can learn from it and how can you improve your incident planning and communication? Use the information to update your crisis management plan – and if you haven’t one then make it a priority to compile a plan.

As experienced trainers in crisis and incident management communications, Quest PR has noticed a significant increase in concerns from forward-thinking businesses and organisations about how to handle their online reputations. They understand that planning is critical if they are to monitor and quickly deal with any customer complaints online. If your customers see you deal swiftly and effectively with any crisis, small or large, damage to your brand and reputation can be limited.

Rebecca Marczak, marketing director at Envirovent, leading UK ventilation manufacturer, explains: “Recognising the growing importance of being well prepared to effectively manage our reputation and communications, whatever eventuality, we embarked on a Social Media Incident Planning Communications workshop with Quest PR. We chose Quest owing to their expertise in working on reputational management across all media channels, particularly digital. Tailoring the workshop to our needs, we gained a number of practical tips in applying good practice approaches to both traditional offline and new social media platforms.”

If you want to find out how we can help your business with reputation management or crisis communications then please ring Sharon Cain or Carol Arthur on 01423 564192 or email and

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Quest PR .

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