We tend to put a lot of ourselves into our online profiles. Whether we’re talking about our personal social media profiles or marketers promoting a brand, all that sharing can sometimes lead to some unintended consequences. As a result, it pays to have a plan in place in the event that you need to defend your online reputation.
Why Your Online Reputation Is Important
Among executives, reputation is frequently cited as one of the top strategic risks. This comes down to a number of factors, the most important of which is the fact that bad news tends to travel much more quickly than good news. When everything’s working fine, people don’t really come out of the woodwork to say so. When something goes wrong, though, you can be sure that people will be sounding off about it. Many companies consider it essential to have in-house or outside PR and marketing agencies at the ready to handle any public image crisis.
Social media and the internet in general have also made the dissemination of information extremely fast, and turned even the most taciturn consumers into very public mouthpieces for bad news about the brands they follow. If your company should find itself in the midst of an embarrassing PR problem, here are three case studies to help you through it.
Case Study #1: Buffer
Buffer is a service that helps marketers to schedule their social media posts. In October of 2013, Buffer was hacked by anonymous parties, which put the personal information of their customers at risk.
So what did Buffer do? They came out swinging. The hack occurred on a Saturday, and by that same afternoon, Buffer had already communicated with customers and the media about the problem.
Instead of trying to bury the bad publicity, they chose to remain completely transparent about the situation. As a result, the response across the web was actually quite positive, with most parties praising Buffer for their quick, decisive and honest response to the crisis.
Case Study #2: J.C. Penney
J.C. Penny, also known as the land of perpetual sales, experienced a rather embarrassing situation last spring when a well-intentioned billboard created a rather unfortunate optical illusion.
The billboard prominently featured Michael Graves’ Bells and Whistles stainless steel teapot which, when viewed from its side, looked just a little bit like the unforgettable profile of Adolph Hitler — complete with mustache and Nazi salute.
Passersby were quick to complain about the billboard online, which brought the situation to the attention of J.C. Penney’s leadership fairly quickly. Company leadership could easily have ignored the situation or maintained that people were delusional or imagining things, but instead they took to Twitter, assuring customers good-naturedly that the likeness to Hitler was “totally unintentional.”
Case Study #3: Fontaine Santé
Based in Montreal, Fontaine Santé is a major food supplier for North America. In the final weeks of 2011, the company was alerted to the possibility that some of their pre-packaged salads could contain traces of Listeria monocytogenes. The salads in question had already been purchased by customers across the continent.
The situation looked particularly dire; not only was the company’s reputation on the line, but also the health of the public. As it was, the news hit social media and spread quickly. Thankfully, Fontaine Santé’s approach proved to be both quick and decisive.
The food distributor leveraged available outlets in both social and traditional media to get the word out to as many people as possible. It’s a far cry from the tight-lipped response that a company with less integrity might have come up with.
Most remarkable is the fact that Fontaine Santé managed to recall all of the contaminated salads, and no cases of illness were reported.
What Can We Learn From These Crises?
Each of these companies are worthy case studies in how to respond appropriately when potential PR disasters rear their heads. So what did they do right?
What all three of these companies have in common is that they responded quickly. That’s probably the most important factor in most cases: the company needs to “get ahead” of the bad news, to assure concerned parties that they’re not only aware of the problem, but actively seeking a solution.
All three companies also made a point of spreading the word as far and wide as they could: one of the keys to damage control is to avoid misinformation and misconceptions from spreading; by reporting the story on their own terms, they ensured that when the story was reported, the facts hadn’t been distorted.
Finally, the companies demonstrated that they were not only willing to pledge a solution to their respective situations, but that they were ready to follow through on their promises. They recalled the contaminated products quickly, they took down the offending billboard and they helped their customers to safeguard their at-risk personal data. Ultimately, they worked closely with their customers and found a solution.
They say you don’t really know someone until you’ve seen them under pressure. It’s probably safe to say we know each of these companies pretty well by now.