How to Save Your Brand Reputation in a Digital Crisis - ArabNet Beirut 2016

Mohamad Salhab, Mar 10 2016

In the fast-paced digital world of today, moves that might seem harmless at first, can dig your brand into a public relations hole that would require professional assistance to get out of.

A recent example was Starbucks chairman’s call for his employees to engage in open-minded, race-related dialogue with customers while waiting on their orders. Social media exploded with sarcasm turning what was meant to be a good-natured initiative into a condescending and patronizing ploy.

Most certainly, the severity of crises differ, but the damage to the reputation of the brand can withstand time and lead to its downfall if not countered. And there are more serious instances when large corporations face true crisis situations like bank runs or airplane crashes.

ArabNet Beirut 2016 hosted a panel titled “How to Maintain Your Reputation Online and Manage a Digital Crisis.” The panelists stressed on the need for preparation so brands won’t be caught entirely off-guard. Here are some of the measures that companies would do well to adopt and implement before, during, and after a crisis:

Before the Storm

1. Establish a strong front within the organization before the emergency

Brand spokespeople, as well as overall team within the organization ought to familiarize themselves with a set of key messages translating the path, vision and mission of the brand. Everyone must be on the same page and abide by unified message; this can prove to be a winning formula when confronting a digital storm.

2. Monitor and listen to social media

Companies that give the excuse that they can’t control social media will lose plenty of leverage and be open to attacks on their reputation. It is the job of every good social media team to keep track of what the industry is saying about the brand and its competitors. This should never be neglected.

“Social media is just another tool – for managing and working on your corporate reputation. But things happen really fast in social media. While crisis is the end point, the first line of defense is a strong online presence,” said Bilal Hallal, Founder of Social Clinic.

3. Test crisis scenarios beforehand

“You need to always think of a crisis before one actually hits for the sake of maintaining a unified front in tackling it. Visualize and play up different scenarios depicting your brand in a crisis situation and tackle the issues from various angles. The purpose is forming an emergency plan that you can revert back to,” said Imad Lahad, Director of Digital Strategy at APCO Worldwide.

In the Thick of It

1. Take the blame, when the situation calls

Speakers stressed on the importance of admitting when there is a mistake or problem. They cite the example of British Petroleum and its catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The company kept mum about the matter in the beginning until an environmental group established an online presence to denounce the crisis – attracting hundreds of thousands of followers. Matters only went further south because the company did not own up to the situation from the beginning.

“Do not put your head in the sand. Be fast enough in your response ahead of the digital world. Owning the story is the most important element. Because you need to try and change the negative sentiments and perception into positive, and that is by taking the negativity offline. This can spell the survival or demise of your brand,” said Lahad.

2. Deal with a crisis maturely

An online crisis is similar to a personal one. And just like a personal attack must be confronted while adhering to certain considerations and depending on the type of crisis. In some situations related to consumer brands, for instance, keeping the line of communication open is a must to limit the damage. There are just too many people that can spread negativity.

It is also important to remember not to delete or ban content that had already appeared online, as this is a “silly” solution, according to Hallal. When people are affected negatively they will save this content and re-post it when and where it will hurt you the most. Besides, this would give the negative belief that you are knowingly behind the problem and ignoring it.

You’re Not Out of the Woods Yet – Or Ever

1. Remember those who cared, remind those who forgot

Do not forget brand ambassadors and influencers who carry love and affinity to the brand in the good times and the bad ones. They deserve more attention than any time before as this connection can spell the revival of your reputation.

After a crisis, allow more time and space for dialogue in order to turn the tide completely. When people comment, they expect feedback – the worst part for them is being ignored. It is the role of the brand identity team to defuse the negativity by talking to them, being proactive, and engaging in positive discussions.

2. Take the time to nurse your wounds and grow a thick hide

“Furthermore, time will direct discussions and queries away from your crisis. Sooner or later, there will be a bigger crisis out there that will divert people’s attention from yours. You must not, however neglect any of the above if you intend on moving forward with a sound, untarnished reputation,” said Lahad.

See related:

Why Brands Should Engage Customers on Multiple Screens

5 Ways MENA Brands Can Engage Customers on Snapchat



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