General Mills faced a PR crisis earlier this year when someone posted a claim on social media saying that he’d found shrimp tails in his Cinnamon Toast Crunch breakfast cereal; company leaders took heat for not responding properly or with enough speed.
Whether or not a business is truly in the wrong, when a customer complaint gains attention in an online public forum, it can go viral quickly. This is why all companies need to develop a plan for addressing negative claims that blow up on social media.
To help, 11 members of Forbes Agency Council take a look at techniques for limiting the damage viral customer complaints can do to a company’s public image.
1. Get To The Bottom Of It Right Away
Get to the bottom of the issue as fast as possible so that your next actions can be better informed, and gather a team to make sure you are considering different perspectives. Rather than ignore the situation or delete comments, acknowledge mistakes. Make it as short as possible; dwelling or engaging beyond what’s necessary will only heat things up more. – Maddie Raedts, IMA – Influencer Marketing Agency
2. Tell The Truth And Move On
If the claim is inaccurate, put the truth out there and move on. Today’s consumers, especially younger consumers, will no longer be pacified with apologies. They want to see sustained action. If the claim has any truth to it, it’s time to take a hard look at your business practices and fix the issue that was brought up. – Brian Sullivan, Sullivan Branding
3. Control The Narrative
You must control the narrative, amplify the positive and hush the negativity. In the case of General Mills, they should’ve sent a rep out to pick up the box of cereal and have it tested. This way, they remove the control from the public. When results come back, tell the truth while amplifying the positive and hushing the negativity. – Brent Payne, Loud Interactive, LLC
4. Don’t Deny Or Make Light Of It
This is a nightmare scenario for a brand. Have a plan for a situation such as this so that employees know how to handle it well and quickly. Don’t try to sweep it under the carpet by denying or making light of it. Try to get the person offline immediately to address the issue directly and come to a resolution that won’t make the situation worse. Let them know that they are authentically being heard. – Megan Devine, d.trio marketing group
5. Seek Counsel Immediately
I would suggest turning to a PR or communications specialist ASAP to fast-track a plan of attack. It is good to have a specialist available to tap into, as not all of us have the most astute understanding of how the media and the audience at large will react. Seeking expert help will help you untangle perception much more effectively. – Christopher Tompkins, The Go! Agency
6. Grasp The Full Context First
When social media crises strike, I always advise companies to get it fast, get it right, get it out and get it over. They need to grasp the full context first: what was said, how it is trending within a wider community and how stakeholders feel about it. Drawing available data from across social media platforms allows companies to suss out the original source, assess the situation and better strategize. – Lars Voedisch, PRecious Communications
7. Acknowledge Your Concern
As a first step, in an effort to be transparent, you should acknowledge that your company is concerned about the situation and those affected. Show that your company is in control and doing everything possible to address the problem. Finally, demonstrate your commitment to rectifying the issue while identifying the problem and ensuring that it won’t happen again. – Joey Hodges, Demonstrate
8. Don’t Be Emotional And Defensive
Always make sure you get ahead of any bad PR. Transparency is key. Sometimes it’s tough to be in that position, but you have to issue a positive and proper response. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you and rush responses out in a defensive manner. Hire a professional and craft the proper response that won’t open you up to more criticism. – Blake George, BMG Media Co.
9. Use Humor In Your Response
Companies can make PR crises work in their favor; this requires leaders to be honest and timely in their responses. The best responses creatively use humor to make people laugh about the misstep, which can spark new campaigns and generate even more interest in your brand. Invest in your brand’s resilience and ensure that your marketing team is prepared to take advantage of any crises that occur. – Alana Sandel, Marketing For Wellness
10. Build A Social Governance Policy
Define what constitutes a crisis and develop a policy. A social listening program can help you identify emerging issues before they turn viral. By monitoring brand sentiment, you can have advanced warning on surges in social media activity. Once a crisis is identified, a well-developed social governance policy will allow for a quick and effective response to issues that have the potential to negatively impact your brand. – Larry Gurreri, Sosemo LLC
11. Don’t Let The Response Become The Story
The first tragedy of a crisis communication is when the response itself becomes the story. The second mistake is making a judgment before you know the facts. The third is reacting emotionally and making excuses. The Cinnamon Toast Crunch social team, unfortunately, violated all three principles. The key is to show empathy and let the general public know that you are on the case; the rest will take care of itself. – Kami Watson Huyse, Zoetica
12. Find Out The Validity Of The Claim First
If it’s true, then do the right thing and take ownership of the mistake. We are all human, and most people can appreciate others admitting their mistakes and asking for forgiveness. However, if the claim is false, then I think it’s important to address that fact and restate your commitment to serving others at the highest level possible. – Ryan White, Social Revelation Marketing
13. Go Big With Your PR Response
When such a claim is put out about the brand, make sure you go big with your PR response, and do it at lightning speed. Leverage this opportunity to put a spin on the original misleading claim by doing a large media campaign that builds off of it and corrects the message. Make it light and comedic, but absolutely correct the message. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne LLC