Bad publicity can hit any company. While you can prevent many errors by diligently proofreading your content and vetting your marketing campaigns, there’s always the potential for something to slip through. Even flawless execution can fall victim to unfounded complaints or inaccurate online reviews. Resist the urge to flare up and fight back or spin false content in response to poor publicity. Instead, engage in masterful content spinning that uses factual information and an honest approach to turn your image around.
Clarify the Situation
Image via Flickr by allenallen1910
The first thing you should do when facing bad publicity is to clarify the situation openly and honestly. While some types of publicity result from genuine employee errors or poor company choices, others are unfounded accusations or exaggerations. Social media makes it possible for anyone to generate bad publicity for your brand, whether the complaint is accurate or not.
Investigate bad PR thoroughly and gather all the facts before you issue any type of response. Begin from the customer’s viewpoint and assume that they’re right. Your first instinct is probably to defend your brand, but this won’t help your image or address the core issue. Make sure you have all the facts before you begin spinning the situation.
If you’re not careful about your approach, readers may see your denial as ignorance. Urban Outfitters offers a perfect example of how an apology can fall short. In 2014, they sold a Kent State Sweatshirt with depicted blood stains on it. After a massive backlash from offended parties, including Kent State itself, Urban Outfitters posted a bland apology stating that the stains were simply discoloration. It’s worth noting that the apology mentioned how the company was saddened by the way the public perceived their product and not by their own error.
Never attempt to shift the blame for bad publicity when your investigation reveals that it’s clearly yours. Urban Outfitters could have improved their apology by taking ownership of the error and not placing it on the shoulders of those who perceived the product wrong. Smart companies own their errors and take swift action to rectify them.
Always err on the side of responsibility, even when you could reasonably deflect. A Valentine’s Day ice storm left 130,000 JetBlue passengers stranded in 2007. Rather than blaming the unpredictable weather for the situation, JetBlue took responsibility for the passengers’ difficulties with rebooking. They promptly drafted a customer’s bill of rights and offered compensation to those who impacted by the storm. Owning your mistakes helps you spin the situation in your favor, highlighting your company’s professionalism and sensitivity.
Publicize the Issue Yourself
Don’t shrink away from controversy or accusations, no matter how damning. If a situation is generating a lot of online buzz, customers are sure to see it. If you’re silent, customers’ searches only return negative blogs and articles about the event. However, if you join the fray and start creating content of your own about the occurrence, you regain some control of the narrative.
Don’t underestimate your customers. They see through content with a blatantly false spin, particularly if it’s posted on your own site. Do issue a press release and address the event on your blog, but don’t stop at media outlets you have direct control over. Offer interviews to your detractors. Search for guest posting opportunities or engage with influencers who might see your side of the issue and offer more balanced coverage.
You can’t stop the flow of negative media on the internet. You can, however, join in and add your content to the mix, highlighting the fact that you’re aware of the issue and taking action to remedy it.
Be the Butt of the Joke
Poke humor at yourself wherever you can. The internet loves a hilarious video or clever meme. Don’t take yourself too seriously if you’re facing a fairly mild complaint. Bodyform offers the perfect example of how you can take a negative situation and spin it into a viral marketing campaign. A man posted a lengthy complaint to Bodyform’s Facebook page bemoaning the misleading nature of commercials for feminine hygiene products that depict “this time of joy and ‘blue water’ and wings.”
Bodyform responded with a hilarious video about the truth behind women’s menstruation. It refers to much of his post word-for-word, and even addresses the poster, Richard, by name. This is a perfect example of how a company can tackle an issue head-on and turn it into a humorous opportunity to generate some positive attention. Laugh at yourself, get others to laugh along with you, and watch as the traffic pours in, effectively turning the tide in your favor.
Offer a Powerful Resolution
One of the most effective things you can do with bad PR is to offer a resolution. When Apple’s iOS 8.0.1 brought along connectivity issues and Touch ID malfunctions, Apple promptly supplied a workaround and got to work on iOS 8.0.2. Faced with a recall of 8.6 million vehicles with safety defects, Toyota began issuing extended warranties.
In extreme cases, companies have spun bad PR one year into top industry awards later. Denny’s was hit with a class-action lawsuit for discrimination in 1994, but they were among the top 10 companies for ethnic minorities just nine years later. In that interim, Denny’s put an extremely heavy focus on battling discrimination in the workplace and developing marketing campaigns geared toward minorities.
The bigger your efforts, the most publicity they generate. Spin the blogs about your PR faux pas into posts about your extreme generosity or impressive efforts at restitution. Pour funds into these resolution efforts as you would into any advertising campaign. The right resolution generates positive earned media and restores your reputation in a meaningful and authentic way.
Bad publicity can ruin a company if it’s not ready for the backlash. However, if you face the issue head-on, take responsibility, and offer a solution for the problem, you can spin something negative into coverage of how smart, resilient, and caring your brand is.