Internet Defamation Crisis Management
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Like a hurricane sweeping through, savagely devastating innocent lives, online reputation crises tend to visit organisations with little warning as to their actual strength, their impact, or their destructive intentions. A story that does not go away within days or weeks is likely to stay on and increase in traffic over time.
At such critical times, you can trust Cohen Davis to take control and deliver a speedy, coordinated and effective action that will contain the crisis and then enable your organisation to move on as quickly as possible. Crises involving online defamation or unflattering information circulating on the internet are probably the most threatening public relations issues for a modern business.
Unexpected dissemination of information, true or false, often finds a company unprepared. The lack of a proper, coordinated response often results in a rapid aggravation of the crisis.
What to do? For a start, it is always advisable for every company - whether it has 2 directors or 20 - to have in place an online reputation alarm system to alert bosses as soon as possible of any high risk information that appears on the internet.
Speed is essential in responding to allegations or unwanted disclosures on the internet. But even more important is the nature of the response, in both tone and substance.
It is possible to survive and even flourish in such an event. To do so, a company needs to have an internet PR crisis management policy in place. All those who hold a role on that policy team should get together at least once a year to discuss the policy and their individual roles.
During normal times, the sales department will be handling sales, the support department will be handling customers’ technical issues, and the information technology or marketing department will be handling the company’s blogs, social networking sites and so on.
But a crisis involving online defamation or the publishing of undesirable information over the internet requires a highly co-ordinated approach by all of these people. Negative information about the company is likely to lead to an increase in buyer objections, which means sales are going to be affected. Also likely to be affected is the department dealing with customer complaints. There may be an increase in rejected or returned goods, with customers assuming, because of what they read on the internet, that there is something wrong with them. There might also be media interest in the derogatory information. In extreme cases, investigating journalists may even call your sales department to discover first-hand the attitude of your employees.
When negative information about the company appears online, even customers who might have been otherwise happy, start to lose confidence in your company, and gain the courage to add their own opinions to the online discussion.
It is therefore very important for your company to meet in advance of trouble to discuss how the company will handle internet reputation crisis situations. Those at the top of the organisation need to ensure that there are systems in place that filter down to the customer support team and the sales people who handle daily contact with the public.
Everyone should know their role. A chain of command should be set up and new developments communicated to management as well as employees on the ground.
Dealing successfully with internet reputation crisis.
When the first sign of a crisis appears, the person in charge of crisis management should call in all the stakeholders. Management should open a discussion of how the company intends to proceed.
Don't shut out other departments. Everyone should contribute to the discussion from their own perspective, so that the sales people understand how to handle new objections, PR people are aware of possible escalation, and so on.
The management team should then draw up a plan making it clear what everyone's responsibility is.
At least twice a day, a smaller team should go through any new information appearing on the internet, including the latest blog posts and forum discussions, as well as any press coverage of the crisis.
The team should remain flexible and be prepared to change course if required.
At the time of an internet reputation crisis, follow this guidance:
Create an action plan for internet reputation crisis management before the problem turns into an inner crisis for the company.
Establish key players in your company and decide what role each should play during a crisis. Consider who your key players are for each type of crisis: legal, PR, etc.
Clarify the method by which communication between the key players will take place. For example, will they use email, phone, or texting? Have a detailed plan in place. Make sure that key players are reachable even if they are out of town or on holiday.
When an internet reputation crisis arises, have the most knowledgeable person in that particular area brief everyone else about it in as much detail as possible. If the issue involves a technical failure, for example, the sales and customer support people will need to understand the nature of the failure and be able to communicate it to customers in a simple and coherent manner. If the matter concerns a badly-worded statement by the PR people, it is important to make sure all departments follow the corrected explanation given to the press and the public.
The person in charge of setting out the brief in relation to a particular crisis should prepare at least three different methods of response. If you have held regular internet-problem meetings as we advise, a variety of scenarios and developments have been considered in advance.
Establish a time frame to deal with the internet reputation crisis. You cannot afford to let a bad story run for days, weeks, months, or years. A story that does not go away within days or weeks is likely to stay on and increase in traffic over time. All the departments and people in your organisation need to make a concerted effort to resolve the crisis within a short time frame.
Discuss methods of dealing with the crisis and their predictable outcomes.
Monitor blogs and social media intensely. If your company does not have an in-house PR team trained to deal with a crisis, hire an external team to handle the matter for the first few crucial weeks.
Avoid taking the view that internet reputation crisis management is all about saving the face of your company. Instead, focus on communicating your position in a way that builds trust in your organisation. Remember, people understand that we all sometimes make mistakes. What your customers will not forgive is a perception that you dodge the real issues or do not fully acknowledge their concerns.
Consider providing your customers with a forum to contain the discussion. Let them communicate directly with your company through the company's blog, the director's blog, the company’s internet forum or live podcasts.
When the crisis has been contained, assemble as soon as possible all the information you have learned and communicate it back to employees. This important process will not only win you gratitude from your employees, it will also provide you with a quality framework for handling similar crisis in the future.