From social media gaffes to federal investigations, hacked computers and airline mishaps, the last year has seen one public relations crisis after another. Every situation is different, but many share one feature – the first response was poor.

When a public relations crisis erupts in your world – and it’s a matter of when, not if – it will happen fast. A bad decision in middle America can become a global trending topic within hours. You’ll be tempted to respond quickly. Don’t.

“But I’ve got reporters on my lawn,” you say, “and we’re getting destroyed on Twitter.” First, #PrayingForYourMentions. Second, I’ve worked for nearly a decade with clients dealing with crises. That experience has given me a unique perspective on how these crises evolve. It’s natural to want to fight back when people are dragging you or your organization. But as we’ve seen, a bad first response will almost always draw more attention to the crisis. It will also harden people’s feelings about you. So take a deep breath and start by listening.

In a public relations crisis, lead with your ears

Open up your social listening software (don’t know what that is? Call us) and your e-mail Inbox. What do you hear? Do you have one upset customer, or is this a groundswell of gripes? Are you hearing from people or bots? Are the people customers or trolls? If you aren’t directly connected to the circumstances that created the crisis, talk to people who are. Get their perspective.

Analyze what you learn

Now you need to make a plan. Outline the problem as you now understand it. Can you acknowledge it? Can you solve it? If you were in the customer’s shoes, how would you want to be treated? If you have a crisis plan in place, it may be as simple as filling in details and executing it. (Don’t have a crisis plan? Call us.)

React proportionally

If only a few people are affected there’s no reason to escalate awareness to a broader audience. Deal directly with them. If you don’t know what happened, admit it and tell people what you are doing in the mean time. If it’s going to be a while before your next response, communicate that. Don’t rush. Be quick enough to show you’re responsive, but slow enough to show you’ve taken time to fully evaluate the situation and consider who needs to hear from you.

This too shall pass

Being honest and ethical will prevent most crises. But people will make mistakes and miscommunicate. When that happens, the public will judge you on not just the situation/error at hand, but in your organization’s reaction to it. Don’t rush it.

Want to talk more about what to do before, during and after a crisis? E-mail or call me – 317-749-0331.

This all sounds good, but how do you put it all together in real life, right? Here’s how Borshoff used social media to help a client earn rave reviews for their crisis response.

Want to know more? Read our blog series on social media in crisis communications:

Who Needs A Crisis Communications Plan?

Social Media Strategy In Crisis Communications

Best Practices For Social Media In A Crisis

Executing Your Social Media Strategy In A Crisis