No matter what business you’re in, eventually you’ll piss someone off.
I’m not talking getting bad PR or a major crisis management campaign like laying off 500 people, or having a product recall where you have a gazillion journalists and customers to deal with. I’m talking about preserving your reputation with the more common one-off “your product or service is not good enough” emails or blog comments, your social media network saying your personality leaves much to be desired, or in another scenario, you jump to the next curve and are 10x better than the status quo and well, it tends to rile people up.
It’s always best to plan ahead, but let’s get real…most of the time, we don’t have the time, and are caught reacting to bad PR.
When this happens, what should you do?
1. Act Quickly – use the internet and your social network to find out what’s being said about you. Today (yes today), set up Google Alerts so that emails come to you whenever you or your company is mentioned on the net. On Twitter for example, you can use Tweetdeck to search tweets you may have missed (don’t just search your @name, search company name and possible abbreviations too) and although I’m just getting on Facebook, I’m sure there’s that function too. On vacation? Make sure someone is monitoring your customer service email account.
2. Assess the Situation – with small businesses the most common complaint is that your product or service did not deliver as promised. Find out what went wrong – remember that your customer WANTS you to succeed. They believed in you enough to buy your product in the first place so don’t be defensive and use the opportunity to let them help you make it better. They are not the enemy. Said something inappropriate? Take your hat in hand and apologize quickly before a firestorm starts.
3. Admit the Truth – the worst thing to do, is to do nothing. That just signifies guilt. So, in your communications whether to customers, your network or to the press, you need to get the truth out, and the truth can mean:
a. The story isn’t true
b. The story stretches the truth
c. The story is true (and therefore you are working to solve the problem)
Take your stance and start talking. And for goodness sake’s don’t be whiny.
4. Make Amends – I saw a sign the other day that says it takes 6 months to win a new client, and 60 seconds to lose them. A little goes a long way in taking action and making amends. New product substitute? A little extra service? A free upgrade? A full refund and apology? Often, your customer is happy with less than you think. What you are comfortable offering also depends on the severity of the situation (refer back to point #3).
And finally, on jumping the curve on a product or service and creating a group of naysayers, here are other thoughts to ponder from the experts:
Silicon Valley venture capitalist and former Apple evangelist Guy Kawasaki has said in The Art of Innovation that you need to be willing to polarize people. When you create a product or service that some people love, don’t be surprised when others hate it. Your goal is to catalyze passion- pro or anti. The only result that should offend you or scare you is lack of interest.
Innovation guru Robert Scoble in a recent article on Facebook says that sometimes, a true leader doesn’t listen to what anyone thinks – even the customer. A leader does what he or she thinks is best for his business.
And for my mompreneur readers, check out how Heather Armstrong, a famous blogger mom at Dooce handles some hate (jealousy?) mail.
What do you have in place for handling bad PR? Would love your thoughts.
For more tips on how to do PR or if would like to explore doing PR yourself, you can check out my ebook for entrepreneurs, moms and small businesses.
“Elena, I loved it!…YOUR BOOK WAS THE BEST AND THE MOST VALUABLE LESSON I HAVE LEARNED SINCE I STARTED MY BUSINESS.”
Elena is founder of a technology PR agency that works with startups to billion-dollar companies. She is passionate about helping marketers and small business owners with practical publicity strategies, which she's also using for her own bling flip flop company.
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