Using ORM to avoid crisis communication fails

Reputation is everything. We all know how hard it can be to protect a good reputation. It is fragile. You only need a single, simple mistake to damage your brand’s image. This is especially true in the digital world where the all too familiar notion of “the internet never forgets” is sulking in the shadows of our online PR and crisis management campaigns

Companies now have to deal with high customer expectations and be flexible enough to survive in an environment where radical transparency reigns supremely. A couple of years back, it would be easy to ignore public voices, but this isn’t an option anymore.  

Brands must now develop effective communication strategies and give an ear to the social chatter while responding to matters affecting them in a way that aligns with their brand and meets customer expectations.  

No business is safe from a crisis situation, so the best way to handle a crisis is to plan for one. Crisis management should be discussed across all of your marketing and reputation management endeavors, including:

  • Public relations
  • Social media management
  • Online ratings and reviews
  • Fake news
  • Content management

But how important is understanding the nitty-gritty of a PR crisis to businesses? This post will briefly look at the various types of public relations crises to watch out for, and the most common mistakes brands make when dealing with PR disasters.  


What is a PR crisis? 

A PR crisis occurs when an organization or an individual receives negative and humiliating publicity that would be damaging to their brand. PR crises are severe and disruptive, and the popularity of social media makes the crisis spread globally in an instant.  

If you’re a believer of the old saying, “There is no such thing as bad publicity,” you may want to rethink your options. This quote, which was made famous by a circus owner - Phineas T. Barnum, has turned out to be one of the biggest myths in the world of public relations.  

But why is that the case? Well, the short answer is that this belief is simply not true. There are a few exceptions where bad publicity would have turned out to become a good way to increase brand awareness, but not necessarily to boost customer trust - Kenneth Cole’s offensive tweets come to mind.  

Regardless, there are too many examples of businesses getting negatively affected by bad publicity to count. No one would really wish to get involved with you once there are so many damaging reviews regarding your brand. 

When is a PR crisis really a crisis?  

Whether small or large, a PR crisis can happen to any business at any time. Most companies that end up closing operations often lack reputation and crisis management structures and end up getting overwhelmed when the inevitable happens.

A crisis not only causes anxiety and uncertainty to the company itself, but also the employees, partners, and customers. Having open and regular communication with all the stakeholders during such a crisis helps to alleviate more confusion. Apart from protecting brand reputation, doing this ultimately sustains the trust people have in the organization.  

Before panic sets in, you also have to consider if the issue at hand can be categorized as a crisis. Should you find yourself in this fix, you need to ask yourself: 

  • Will the issue at hand affect the workflow of your company?  
  • Can it send your board into a frenzy? 
  • Will it negatively affect brand reputation? 
  • Does the issue go against the values of the company and the general beliefs of the target market? 
  • Will your bottom line get disrupted because of the problem?  

Any one of the above issues would constitute a crisis situation. One by itself may be easily resolved, but if they all happened simultaneously then you’re in need of some serious crisis management strategy

Effective crisis communication enables companies to navigate through the issues they face with more confidence and clarity. This ensures that the business can recover from the crisis without taking a huge hit. Some companies are now starting and offering online courses to their employees to understand what to do if a crisis occurs.  

When does a crisis require priority action? 

Before you run into a frenzy wondering if whatever happened demands swift action, you ought to understand that there are three types of a PR crisis that require a well-planned response. The only difference is the level of damage it could cause to your brand. They include:  

Level 1 

A level 1 crisis has the highest potential of becoming a disaster and demands swift action to avoid further damage. Some of the things to watch out for are: 

  • Workplace harassment claims
  • Offensive, abusive, intimidating, or discriminating behavior 
  • Product recalls due to defective or unsafe materials 
  • Corporate impropriety such as theft, fraud, poor customer service, deception, etc.  

Brands will struggle to walk away unscathed from a level 1 crisis as you’ll get a lot of negative attention from all media. This means when giving your response, you’ll be forced to post your explanation across all major platforms - multichannel. 

Level 2 

A level 2 crisis is less scary, but you shouldn’t ignore it. They come in the form of customer complaints and criticisms. Luckily, with a standby team, e.g., a social media management team, such issues can be dealt with quickly before they escalate. 

Remember that when a customer has a problem with a product or service, they want to be heard. There are several mediums today that customers can use to voice their concerns, such as Yelp, Ripoff Report, and social media.

A company's social media team should be ready to respond to any complaint posted online. In some cases, however, a formal apology is in order and should be made by the company representative.

Level 3 

Your competitors or a related industry can also experience a crisis, and by extension, it might also affect your brand reputation. The way out of this crisis is to improve competitive intelligence.  

To avoid a level 3 crisis, you need to monitor your competitors. It’s  not enough to simply monitor your own social media presence. If you get a sniff of a potential problem, you should post a statement fast and distance yourself from the looming trouble.  

Understanding online reputation management 

Online reputation management is a strategic process of fostering a positive perception of a company, product, or person on the Internet. It is an umbrella term that covers efforts to improve online visibility and manage both positive and negative feedback about a product, service or company.

By using ORM techniques, businesses can mitigate the adverse effects of communication failures and other crises while still expanding their domain holdings.  

Examples of crisis communication fails

Here are some popular crisis communication fails from major brands and the lessons to be learned from them. 


Kitchenaid Tweet

In the run towards the 2012 U.S. presidential debate, KitchenAid received a lot of backlash after a series of tweets about President Obama’s grandmother’s death was posted on the company’s official twitter account.  

Although the offensive tweet was deleted quickly, it was up long enough for angry consumers to take offense...and plenty of screenshots. Although their head of branding later published several tweets apologizing for the incident, the damage had already happened. Many users tweeted that they wouldn’t be purchasing the company’s products anymore. 

Kitchenaid Apology

Bottom line 

Always ensure that your team understands the difference between official accounts and personal social media accounts. Before posting anything online using your official accounts, make sure that it conforms to the company values and double-check whatever you write before posting.  

American Rifleman 

NRA Tweet

Although this seems like an innocent-enough tweet from a firearms publication, the timing was quite unfortunate. This tweet was published on the same day as the tragic public shooting in Aurora, Colorado that left 12 people dead. While the company claimed this was a pre-scheduled tweet, social media users found it in poor taste considering the events that unfolded that day.  

This tweet was published in the morning hours and later deleted in the afternoon but the damage was already done.

Bottom line 

Always be aware of current events before your post goes live.  

Common crisis communication mistakes to avoid 

Here are five common crisis communication mistakes you should avoid at all cost.

No crisis communication plan 

By now it should be pretty clear that a crisis can happen to anyone, even to more established brands. One of the biggest mistakes people make is not to have a crisis communication plan. Anticipating issues and having a response plan helps to minimize risks while sustaining trust. 

Taking too long to respond 

Speed matters during a crisis, no matter how large or little it is. Organizations must respond quickly to all issues before they escalate with factual information. Taking longer would only make matters worse. 

Forgetting about employees 

Whenever a crisis looms, many companies tend to forget about their employees while focusing more on their external crisis response. It should be noted that employees are also huge stakeholders in the company, and they feel the worry and have to deal with uncertainties created by the crisis.  

To avoid all these, organizations need to start supporting their employees by having effective internal communication structures and frequently checking up on them.  

Continuing with the business-as-usual mentality 

Whenever a crisis occurs, do not make the mistake of continuing with your normal business activities. You need to give priority to the situation at hand and work towards solving it first. Do not overlook a looming crisis and continue with your marketing strategies.  

Lacking crisis-ready leaders 

Strong leadership is an important aspect to consider, especially during a crisis. Whenever a situation arises, people will be looking at the leadership to offer timely, transparent responses. Apart from stating the facts, a leader’s response should also indicate remorse for any previous ill-advised posts and show that their message is heartfelt.  

Organizations that train their leaders on handling such situations often emerge victorious during a crisis, unlike brands where the leadership doesn’t know how to react.  

Final thoughts

Always be prepared as anything can happen. Lacking a proper crisis management plan is like preparing the gateway for your downfall. A PR crisis doesn’t need to turn into a disaster. Simply avoid a few mistakes, and you’ll be good to go.  

The first thing is to understand what a crisis is, what level of priority to give certain crises, and what mistakes other people in your place have made before. It will be much easier for you to develop a comprehensive online reputation management strategy when all these factors are considered. 

Crisis communication FAQs

When do I need to start thinking about crisis communications? 

No business is safe from a crisis situation, so the best way to handle a crisis is to plan for one. It is best to develop a crisis management plan when things are going well for your company so you will be ready if it ever should happen. Consider the following areas of your marketing and reputation management initiatives, including public relations, social media management, online ratings and reviews, fake news, and content management.

How do I strengthen my online brand before a crisis? 

Search results can be protected by proactively creating and placing certain content like articles, video, graphics, or even audio, on reputable web sites. Great branded content, properly placed and promoted, means that negative results are less likely to come up first. This is reputation protection.

What are the most common crisis communication mistakes to avoid? 

Avoid the following five most common crisis communication mistakes: not having a crisis communication plan, taking too long to respond, forgetting about employees, continuing with the business-as-usual mentality, and lacking crisis-ready leaders. 

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