Business moves at the speed of light in the digital media. When a crisis comes calling there is little time to reach for the thick notebooks filled with written criss media management plans.
Precious seconds tick by as your critics or even competitors take over your brand message online. Professor Venky Shankar, Ph.D., in the Mays Business School at Texas A&M University has conducted research on how inept responses to a crisis harm the total dollar market value for a company’s outstanding shares known as market cap.
Shankar has developed a six step method using words that begin with the letter “A” for how to control a crisis.
Don’t wait for a crisis to strike without anticipating potential threats to your business. Surely United Airlines knew passengers get upset about giving up their seats long before security officers dragged a bloodied screaming passenger down the aisle.
In the social media age a negative event gets amplified and it gets stored and accumulated and then it goes viral.
You don’t have the luxury of waiting until you can get to the bottom of all of the facts or think you can wait until it blows over. That’s why you need to anticipate. What does anticipating mean? For a large company it means operating a social media war room or command center where you monitor each and every thing that is said and posted about your brand, shared about it, including pictures and videos.
Quickly acknowledge that something has happened. It took days for Mark Zuckerberg, to come out of hiding to acknowledge the Russians had run a misinformation campaign inside Facebook. Facebook lost about $37 million in market cap over four days. And the losses kept growing.
Your attorney will tell you that the company may not be at fault and will likely discourage an apology.
Shankar says such an apology is the equivalent of empathizing with the affected party. “It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re acknowledging liability or you’re saying you’re at fault. Apologies could be heartfelt, sincere, and it should resonate with the affected party.” He cautions that you may do more harm if you respond in “corporate speak”.
“If you’re CEO, you’ve got to ask yourself, “What if I’m the affected customer or the family? Then how would I respond? What would I want the firm to do for me?” Otherwise you will negatively impact brand equity, consumer trust, and shareholder trust over the long term.
Shankar has published two studies about the impact of product recalls especially in the automotive industry. The firms that did not make a genuine apology suffered over the long term.
“Admit even if you don’t have to be perfectly at fault, even if you are partially at fault,” advises Shankar. He cites the first response by the CEO of United Airlines when Dr. Dao was dragged off the plane. The first reaction was to say the employees did the right thing without really thinking through the issue. Shankar contends that not only did it not show empathy, but also it showed the lack of willingness to admit.
Obviously, even if there was something wrong with the passenger, nobody should be dragged. At least, that was – you don’t need to do an investigation. You should have admitted it, right?
Make amends. Genuinely fix the problem. Don’t just show superficially that you’re changing something. Show how you fixed it. So if it’s a car recall, show how nicely it’s done, how clearly it’s done, how they are compensated, what changes you made to the process.
Shankar says people want assurance. In the digital social media world people’s trust of brand is very low. They’re not listening to brand messages. They are listening to their friends and friends of their friends in social media. “Can I trust this brand? The only way you can do that is to show that you fixed the process that leads to this problem.”
Get the affected people to come out and say, “Wow! This company really reacted correctly, quickly, and fixed the problem. I want to trust this brand for the long term. The Southwest pilot’s empathetic response in the midst of a passenger being sucked into a window and killed when an engine failed underscores this principle. Social media followers of the airline praised the crew for getting the plane safely to the ground.
Shankar says that if companies follow the 6 “A’s” of crisis management correctly, they can emerge from an incident still desirable. “People will stick with your brand and they will almost internalize and start saying, ‘Hey, I want to support this brand. It could happen to me.’ That’s the kind of empathy that you want.”