This is the second part of a series of two blog posts addressing the subject crisis management on social media.
Yesterday, I wrote about how brands can anticipate crises by being proactive through monitoring of issues. I discussed at what point brands must take action and engage in crisis management. Today, I will go through what kind of response strategies you can make use of in your crisis response to restore your brand’s image.
First and foremost, the main step for brands is of course to avoid a crisis by “walking the talk” and by being ethical and transparent. But any company can of course end up in a crisis situation – and the message of a company acting unethically will spread quickly on Social media, whether intentionally or not. A crisis will inevitably have an impact on a company’s image and reputation, and the image depends entirely on the stakeholders’ perception of the organisation as being responsible or not responsible for the crisis.
The crisis situation
Before deciding on which crisis response strategy to use you must determine your organisation’s level of responsibility as well as the level of reputational threat your organisation is facing.
According to renowned crisis management theorist, Timothy Coombs, the level of threat that the crisis has on an organisation’s reputation can be mild, moderate or severe. The level of threat depends on how much crisis responsibility people attribute the company:
- If people perceive the company as a victim, the level of reputational threat is mild. This is the case if the crisis isn’t self-inflicted, such as when a natural disaster strikes or when a false rumour is circulating.
- Moderate reputational threat occurs when a company has accidentally performed the operation that led to the crisis. This includes accidents and technical breakdowns leading to withdrawal of products.
- The severe reputational threat arises when the company knowingly places people at risk and could have prevented the crisis, such as organisational misdeeds, human errors leading to accidents, injuries, violations of laws and regulations or if the company deliberately has acted unethically or illegally.
Knowing the crisis situation helps you create the right response so that you neither overreact nor underreact.
You must always remember not to dominate the conversation: listen to people’s concerns. As before mentioned, the degree of the reputational threat depends entirely on people’s perception of the company, so you want to put their concerns in the centre of your response strategy. In the following, I will give you some strategies you can use to tell your side of the story. My suggestions are inspired by Timothy Coombs and classic rhetoric of apologia theories:
To clear one’s name
The company can try to clear its name by denying responsibility or by asserting that there is no crisis. The intent of the action can also be denied – it is easier to deny that the act was premeditated than to deny the action itself.
The accused company here seeks to change the audience’s understanding of the matter by differentiating itself from the criticism made by the stakeholders in order to get the audience to see the matter from a new, less abstract perspective. Opt for this strategy if the reputational threat is mild, such as if a false rumour is circulating about you.
Redefining the situation
By using this strategy, the brand seeks to preserve its reputation by looking beyond the specific details of the case. The accused company here tries to portray itself as more decent and morally righteous than the ones attacking it and might even attack the accuser or find a scapegoat.
This is also a denial strategy, but with an attempt to redefine the crisis by placing it in a completely different context – basically, the organisation here tries to change the audiences perception of the actual crisis by reducing the negative impact of it and moving the attention to the good deeds of the company. Opt for this strategy when the reputational threat is moderate.
Explanation and justification
The accused company tries to explain the actions well enough to make the audience identify itself with the company’s motives and understand the actions, so they will not judge the organisation. This can be done in the following ways:
- Minimising the perceived damage caused by the crisis such as by comparing it to other crises, other companies or social trends.
- Telling the audience about past good actions made by the organisation.
- Reminding people that the company is the victim, so that the audience will in fact recognise that the organisation isn’t at fault.
Use this strategy when the reputational threat is moderate.
The last crisis response strategy is to take full responsibility for the actions and apologies to the audience. The difference between apology and an excuse it that by excusing, the company denies the intent to do harm and/or claims the inability to control the events that triggered the crisis – an excuse is thus just to minimise organisational responsibility. If the company really wants forgiveness, it must take on the full responsibility and apologise. Opt for this strategy in case of a severe reputational threat. Silence is of course never an optional strategy.
Be prepared to change crisis response strategy if the crisis situation changes and thus asks for a different response to restore the brand’s image. Also, the reputational threat is intensified if your brand has a crisis history and a prior negative reputation as people will attribute a greater responsibility to you for the crisis.