10 things every entrepreneur should know about crisis communications

I wrote a few months ago about dealing with a crisis and I thought it would be worth posting the key points again today.  Here are a few tips on how to minimize the damage in a crisis.

It’s all about control.  If you don’t have it you’re at the mercy of the press, social media and speculation.  The sooner you regain control of the news agenda the better.

Have a plan.  Successful crisis communications is all about the planning, so do it before the problem happens.  You don’t want to be creating a strategy when the pressure is on – you want to be able to use it as soon as a crisis happens.

Get your side of the story on record as soon as you can. Otherwise the only story people hear is the accusations.  The longer you leave it, the harder it is to regain control of the situation.

Use holding statements if you need to – they can provide a valuable tool that buy you some time – but get your side of the story in to the public domain as soon as possible.  It’s important not to say something before you are ready, but if you have a plan you should be able to make a statement sooner rather than later.

Tell the truth. If you don’t it will come out and being seen to lie will only make the situation worse in the long run.  Honest mistakes [if that’s what they are] will likely be forgiven more quickly if they are taken responsibility for, than if your audience thinks you aren’t being honest.

If you have something to own up to, do it sooner rather than later.  If you’ve made a mistake acknowledging it, and apologizing, minimizes long-term damage to reputation.

If you aren’t guilty of the accusations being levelled against you or your business, be very clear that they are wrong [see my post on dealing with defamatory statements]

Apologize. Say sorry – if you need to – and mean it.

Don’t duck difficult questions.  It’ll look like you have something to hide.

Keep statements to the facts. Don’t comment on things that aren’t directly related to the crisis, and don’t get drawn into commenting on rumour or speculation.  If you don’t know the answer, say so.

In some cases a holding statement is the best strategy.  It’ll give you more time to  work on something more substantive, when you know more.  It’s also important that if you give assurances that a full investigation will be conducted and a more detailed statement given once this has been completed you must do so in a timely manner.

Know what you’re dealing with before you say anything. Make sure you have a full understanding of what did and did not happen so that you can be sure what you’re saying is accurate.  It’ll also ensure that you can’t be accused of misleading and allows you to avoid misunderstandings.

Understand the relative jurisdictions involved. Are there legal issues? Personal matters? It’s important to be clear what relates directly to your organization so that your communications strategy focuses on these issues and not on those that fall outside of your responsibility or sphere of expertise or legal jurisdiction.

If you have any questions about how to manage a crisis we’ll be happy to help you build a crisis management plan that will serve you well in the event that it is needed.

Google I/O shows the future of the web

Google Plus, Facelift, Google Book
A Facebook competitor? Google Plus gets a cleaner, more intuitive and user-friendly interface.

I attended one of the Google I/O extended events in Kitchener-Waterloo yesterday and got a glimpse of some of the developer tools that will shape the way we see and use the web. As a marketer there were some things that will make it easier for customers to find the business they are looking for, for businesses to target audiences with personal messaging and allow for richer conversations between businesses and their customers.

Location, mobile and video are all going to be huge – and yes, I know that’s not a great revelation, but, as I’ll write about in more detail in the coming days the opportunities to use each of these intelligently to differentiate your business are huge. Google Plus, generally seen as a far inferior platform to Facebook, got a major overhaul with a facelift and major back-end updates will likely encourage users to take another look at it.

A&F “plus size” comments are simply brand positioning

A lot has been made in the media recently about comments reportedly made by Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries about plus size women’s clothing.  Aside from the fact that Jeffries doesn’t appear to have said anything specifically about plus-size clothes [I can find no evidence for him specifically using the words claimed and most stories appear to have come from an interview Retail Analyst and author Robin Lewis gave to Business Insider, and the fact that the interview being used by many media outlets to support their story was in a 2006 edition of Salon magazine, the companies focus on ‘the thin and beautiful’ appears to be little more than brand positioning.

Sure, Jeffries position on the type of customers he wants in store might be offensive and misplaced.  They might, ultimately, be bad for the company image as they transition to a high-end luxury brand targeting a wider demographic than their current customer base, but in reality, they are simply a brand positioning exercise – and marketers could do worse than follow Abercrombie’s example.

Abercrombie & Fitch brand positioning
Abercrombie & Fitch knows its customer demographic

Why? Because Jeffries clearly knows who his customers are – the so-called ‘thin and the beautiful’ – and his comments [albeit not those he’s accused by many of making] simply reinforce the company’s brand values [thin, and ‘beautiful’] to his target audience to those that already buy his clothes, and those that aspire to shop there – people who believe they are ‘thin and beautiful’.

You can argue his mis-guided definition of beautiful – I’m not suggesting Jeffries is accurate – but A&F’s is on display in every piece of marketing the company does.  As socially unacceptable as his comments might be he isn’t worried about upsetting the wider mass market, because they’re not likely to shop at Abercrombie and Fitch.  It’s actually smart brand positioning.

Other brands do exactly the same thing as A&F – just more subtly.  Ferrari produces $250,000 vehicles that it knows its core customer base will buy.  It does not make a $30k subcompact or a station wagon [OK, so it made one for the Sultan of Brunei]. Nor do you ever hear people complaining because they don’t make a car for the mass market.  Apple’s  core business for many years was high-end, high-priced personal computers for the semi- and professional customer… the list goes on.  Their brand positioning and marketing are also highly targeted to the people that buy its products and those that aspire to own them.

Mike Jeffries comments from 2006 are also a welcome reinforcement that in the era of the real-time internet, everything you say can be easily found and be revisited at any time and used against you.  This might cause the company problems if, as reports suggest, it has a plan to transition to a broader high-end luxury fashion brand with a broader potential customer base but, if he’s as skilled a brand manager as he appears, it’s unlikely.

How to simplify complex ideas or technologies

It’s one of the things that companies, and particularly technology companies, struggle with most – how do they explain a complicated idea, product or service in a way that their target audience can relate to.  Here’s a great example from NetworkingNerd.net that uses coffee to explain what the various ‘as-a-service’ or ‘cloud’ delivery models offered by technology service providers really mean.

You can read the full post on the NetworkingNerd.net site.  If you’re a tech marketer that is struggling to explain your value proposition or technology then I’d highly recommend you share it with your teams.

Explaining a complex idea, using coffee
NetworkingNerd.net – All Rights Reserved


How to get defamatory online posts taken down

NOTE: this is not a post on how to get negative posts removed.  For advice on what to do to address these, please visit 5 things to do to tackle negative reviews online

This post provides advice on how to deal with online comments and posts that are defamatory – untrue statements that are made as a matter of fact that do damage to the reputation of a business or its owner.  I wrote a post about online defamation last year, but as more and more of my clients ask for help with the problem I wanted to provide a quick guide to how you can get the posts taken down without resorting to legal action.

First, you must satisfy the following criteria:

  • The comments must be defamatory – they must be stated as facts, rather than as an opinion and be something that can do damage to the reputation of either your business or  your personally.
  • You must also be able to prove that the statement is false, rather than simply something that you feel is unfair [the burden of proof in defamation cases is on the defamed to prove it is false]
  • The evidence needs to be such that it would stand up to the evidential standards – and prove the statement to be false beyond reasonable doubt.
  • The statement has been published [the legal definition of publication in defamation cases is two people]

On the basis that you have fulfilled these criteria, then the quickest and most effective way to have defamatory statements removed from a website or forum is to present the publisher with an affidavit that the statement is defamatory on the grounds it us untrue, and asking them to remove the offending posts or comments.  It’s likely that they’ll remove the posts but, if they don’t, it’s worth reminding them that, while it may not be worth you pursuing the original poster, that repeating a defamatory statement [which is, as publishers, what they are doing] is not a defence in law, and you reserve the right to take action against them to have the content removed and recover damages.

If, at this point they still refuse to take down the defamatory content then it might be time to contact a lawyer to explore your legal options.

For advice on how to deal with negative or defamatory statements online contact lyndon@thinkdifferently.ca


Yelp! 5 things to do if you get a negative online review

If you have a business – particularly one that deals directly with consumers – reviews are an increasingly important tool for growing your business.  With more review sites and an increasing number of reviewers, the chance you’ll get negative reviews is also higher than ever.  But, that’s OK.  It’s not the review, but how you deal with it that is important.  If you have no negative reviews then the modern internet-savvy consumer will likely suspect something is wrong.

So, what do you do when you get a negative review?  There are some quick and easy things you can do that may turn a negative review in to a positive business outcome.  It also shows that you take complaints seriously, rather than dismissing them.

1. Take responsibility – saying sorry is key.  It demonstrates that your business cares about negative feedback and shows that you take their complaint seriously.  Explain that you want to find out what went wrong and take steps to remedy  the situation.

2. Take it offline – ask for contact details so that you can contact the customer.  Reassure them that you are concerned about the problem they experienced and want to see what you can do to address it.  Asking for contact details also enables you to take the discussion offline, rather than having it in a public forum.

3.  Find out what went wrong –  without the facts you can’t stop it happening again and set yourself up for more negative reviews.  Talk with your customer and staff to understand what the truth is and what, if anything, went wrong.

4.  Follow up – often all a customer wants is to know that you take their complaint seriously.  Calling them to explain what you found out and, where possible, taking responsibility for the problem they experienced shows you care and demonstrates that you are doing everything you can to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

5. Avoid a repeat –  – the saying, ‘the customer is always right’ is an important one.  Whether they are, or are not – they need to feel like their concerns have been taken seriously.  Whether you feel their complaint is valid or not, offer them some sort of goodwill gesture – a voucher off of a future meal, or a replacement product.  It’ll be cheaper than the damage caused to your reputation.

Wherever possible take personal responsibility for making sure their experience is one to remember, for all the right reasons.

There will always be customers that are unsatisfied, but  by adopting this approach you’ll be able to demonstrate that you’ve done everything you can to address the complaint and fix it.

To find out how to deal with defamatory online posts online click here


How to use video to differentiate your marketing

Yesterday I was talking with @mone_Knows  about innovation in PR.  I mentioned how very few companies have worked out how to use video as part of their public relations, marketing and online customer service activities, and she showed me a video that glasses retailer Warby Parker had made for her when she was looking for a new pair.

I tweeted the company that I liked what the company was doing and they made me a video to say thank you.  Very cool – and not just because they made me a video.  They could have made it about them but they didn’t – it was about me.  It’s not a sales video, there’s no hard sell… it’s friendly, personal and – because it’s video – it shows a little of the personality of the brand.  It also demonstrates that using video as part of your PR, marketing and customer service activities can be quick [their video came just a couple of hours after my original tweet], cost-effective and builds a relationship with an audience – whether its customers, prospects, journalists or influencers.

Check out Warby Parker’s YouTube channel to see how they’re doing it.  None of the videos has a huge number of views – and that’s OK.  It’s not the point.  The videos aren’t about viewer numbers, they’re about building a personal relationship with their audience.   And, before you think that it only works because Warby Parker is a consumer business, think again.  Video works for B2B businesses too – you just have to figure out how best to use it for your target audience.

So, next time you’re wondering how to differentiate your business, and build a relationship with a target audience, think video.