Although technology companies amaze with their life-changing breakthroughs, the industry has yet to invent a solution to one particular challenge: the crisis. In the consumer technology space, a brand can be threatened by something as simple as a bad product review, or as destructive as corporate malfeasance. Regardless, crisis experts know that every business eventually faces a threat to its reputation.
Whether the inevitable crisis is a product malfunction or a personnel problem, there is a science to crisis management. Here are five steps tech companies can take during halcyon days, and five strategies to adopt once a crisis occurs.
1) The reputation audit. Businesses should identify their vulnerabilities and potential problem areas. Trouble spots for all companies include issues like personnel misconduct, while company-specific issues can include exaggerated claims about a product, lawsuits, or personal injury.
2) The crisis communications plan. Armed with a realistic picture of their weaknesses, companies can begin to draft a crisis communications plan. In an actual crisis, a company must act quickly to get ahead of rumor and speculation. A good crisis communications plan includes the initial holding statements for traditional media and the company’s owned media channels. The plan defines the members of the company’s crisis team and assigns roles and responsibilities.
3) Turning weaknesses into strengths. A company’s understanding its weaknesses also gives it the chance to proactively communicate improvements and progress. A “trust campaign” can build credibility among target audiences, neutralizing criticism before it builds.
4) Crisis training. Practicing a crisis plan is the best way to react with confidence once a real issue erupts. Using the crisis communications plan as a template, companies can run through various scenarios on a quarterly basis, with the opportunity to constantly test and improve.
5) Media monitoring. The first sign of a crisis or reputational threat often appears as a tweet, blog post or article comment. A plan for continual media monitoring gives companies the chance to respond to a potential crisis before it becomes a larger story.
6) Strategic messaging. A company’s core crisis message should communicate what is known about the issue, how it’s going to be fixed, and why the company should be trusted to make the necessary changes. Crisis management by smokescreen only encourages journalists and other stakeholders to keep digging, and keep writing. If a company has been vigilant about communicating its improvements, it will be able to draw on a community of advocates and a reservoir of trust to support its message.
7) Selective media outreach. In a crisis (and in general), not every reporter is a friend. Companies need to do their homework to decide which reporters get a live interview and which get an emailed statement. The strategy with traditional and social media should be to avoid confrontation and adopt a tone that is as cooperative and conciliatory is possible. Defensiveness only signals that there is an additional story to be uncovered.
8) The rules for a hostile interview. Never repeat the negative words in a question, don’t answer hypothetical questions, and think in terms of sound bites. If a spokesperson is worried about being misquoted, the company should make its own recording of the interview and let the reporter know the interview is being recorded.
9) Media monitoring. The system in place for media monitoring pre-crisis is even more critical now. The monitoring of print, web, broadcast coverage and social conversations in real-time lets companies understand how the story is being reported and whether strategy adjustments are necessary.
10) Keeping perspective. Doing nothing is a strategy. The outrage of one or two Twitter followers or a few angry customers does not justify cranking up the crisis machine. Keep in mind that a company’s external communications bring attention to the source of trouble. Proceed with caution.