Could Facebook have managed the crisis better through PR?

11 April 2018

Crisis is a great leveler and any business, irrespective of its size and stature, will face some kind of public relations crisis at some point. But the way you respond to the crisis and manage it can either damage your brand or earn you the respect of your customers and the public at large. The Ides of March came two days late for Facebook as the social media behemoth was embroiled in one of the year’s biggest scandals. On March 17, the London Observer and The New York Times reported that UK-based data firm Cambridge Analytica had accessed millions of Facebook users’ personal data to build software that targeted potential swing voters in political campaigns.
After five long days of silence, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg finally appeared on media platforms to apologize and vowed to set things right. However, the delayed and inept handling of the scandal showed that he and his team quite clearly overlooked the basic tenets of crisis management. In the age of social media when news goes viral almost instantly, every organization must be ready to respond to any public relation crisis promptly. Irrespective of the size of the company is big or small here are seven crucial steps to help you devise an efficient crisis management strategy:

Own up and apologize

When dealing with a public relations crisis steer clear off dodging questions as it will only worsen the damage. Instead, deal with the situation head-on by taking responsibility and reacting promptly. Extending a heartfelt apology and offering a call to action can change the narrative in your company’s favor.

Clear communication

In every recent crisis that made front page news, the company in question has fumbled with their initial response. Be it Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica crisis or United Airlines’ passenger offloading controversy, the communication was marred by unsure responses, contradicting statements and deliberate obfuscation. The biggest lesson that companies must learn from these instances is the absolute need for clear communication immediately after a crisis. It’s imperative for your crisis management team to be able to communicate in a timely, direct and honest manner.

Identify a spokesperson

A spokesperson must be identified and prepared to ensure that the company speaks with one voice and delivers a clear consistent message. The person designated to perform this crucial task must be prepared in advance to deal with tough questions and participate in multiple interviews. At any given point in time, the crisis management team must have people who have been trained as spokespersons for different channels of communications.

Honest and consistent message

Crisis management doesn’t stop at choosing an articulate voice, but the message should also be honest and transparent. To stop rumors and defuse speculations, a consistent message must be transmitted through various communications channels such as news interviews, social media, and internal announcements.

Keep all stakeholders informed

While it’s important to communicate clearly with the outside world, companies must also keep their workforce up to speed with all developments. This clarity towards staff members can suppress internal rumors from spreading on external platforms. Even at the time of a crisis, a company can instill confidence in customers and suppliers by keeping them informed and updated about relevant developments.

Update early and often

There’s nothing like over-communication while dealing with a crisis. It’s better to reiterate a clear and honest message than let rumors to fill the void. As a part of your communication plan, issue summary statements and regular updates as early and as often as possible. We live in the age of 24/7 news and social media and its imperative to stay ahead of the news curve with constant communication.

Create a monitoring mechanism

After framing the message and disseminating it, be sure to monitor public’s response and feedback. It’s vital to keep your finger on the pulse of stakeholders to adapt your strategy and tactics. Reputations are made or marred on social media, so be sure to closely monitor social media activity throughout the crisis. The knowledge of what’s being said about you can help you identify a negative trend and avert any further damage.

The bigger lesson

The model for managing a modern corporate crisis is not rocket science. It can be succinctly summed up as ‘don’t delay, apologize, be transparent, and be accountable’. Remember that a crisis that is allowed to get out of hand can bring down a company’s decades-old legacy in a matter of hours. The job doesn’t end with managing the crisis but you must take a moment or two to reflect on what caused the crisis to occur. Only then will you be able to take corrective action to avoid any similar crisis and manage one if it all arises.

Try as you may, you cannot avert a crisis but you can most certainly manage it.