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Building brand credibility through successful crisis management

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No matter what industry, most organizations experience a business crisis at some point in their existence whether it might be a data breach, a viral social media slam or a mass email glitch. The best way to deal with a crisis, of course, is to anticipate and prevent it with a solid crisis management plan. Even without a plan, however, a crisis doesn't have to be disastrous to your brand.

In fact, if handled gracefully, it may earn your brand even more loyalty and support in the long run.

How can businesses bring a sudden dilemma to a smooth, effective resolution? First, let's start with some things not to do:

  • Don't panic, even if you're not prepared for a crisis. However hectic things may be, it's crucial to maintain your credibility as an organized brand. Meanwhile, gather facts as quickly as you can and make decisions accordingly.
  • Don't get defensive. The view of the public outside your brand will be different from your own internal perspective. Instead of expecting them to 'redefine' things, try to see the problem through their eyes it may provide new ideas about the best path to a solution.
  • Don't point blame. In a crisis, customers won't bother to differentiate between your collective brand and your individual affiliates. Just focus on resolving the issue even if it's not directly your fault.

Once you've gotten your bearings and established a proper reaction mindset, you can concentrate on a few important strategies to help turn the storm to your advantage.

Act fast. Acknowledge the problem immediately, even if you don't yet have all the facts. If you don't speak up quickly, someone else will and then it becomes easy to exaggerate the issue beyond repair. By breaking the news before anyone else can (especially to the media), you not only ensure that the situation is reported completely and accurately, but also that those involved will keep looking to you for further information.

Get the facts. As soon as possible, find out exactly what happened. How and where did the problem start? How many people were involved? How serious is the situation, and what's the extent of potential damage? No matter what kind of crisis you're battling, understanding the context will allow you to respond more effectively.

Take responsibility.  Any crisis is a blow to your professional ego, but trying to cover it up will only undermine your established credibility and further shake your customers' confidence. So come clean, no matter how difficult or humiliating it may be. Apologize everywhere, and do it often. Never answer any inquiry with 'No comment,' and accept negative feedback gracefully (after all, your followers are probably justified in criticizing your error). Most importantly, assure them that you're taking decisive action to fix the problem. Refusing to admit your mistakes or not appearing appropriately repentant will turn a crisis into a catastrophe.

Keep customers and contacts informed. Once your crisis goes public, make sure communication stays open, accessible and up-to-date.  Create a FAQ web page just for updates, or open a separate social media channel for crisis-related correspondence. If you encounter repeated responses or questions from particular critics, encourage them to contact you personally offline via phone or email. Creating a controlled communication outlet will make it easier for you to monitor and track conversations (a good way, also, to get warnings of any new crises before they arise). If you don't provide space for your followers to ask questions, complain or gather information, they may vent on channels you can't control.

Follow up. When the crisis is resolved, make sure the public knows it's over and don't forget to officially debrief your employees. Make amends in any way you can. It's also a good idea to thank any customers who defended your brand during the crisis.

Monitor and analyze. If another crisis emerged tomorrow, would you be prepared? Assess every aspect of your crisis management approach to see which of your strategies have been successful, and which have not. Document everything, (including social media posts and other correspondence), and of course, pay close attention to your website traffic patterns and search metrics. Carefully evaluate your internal plan as well. Did it provide effective communication between employees? Was your crisis management team able to make efficient decisions and appropriate responses?

Recognize opportunity. Though stressful and unpleasant, crisis can often provide insights that otherwise may never be revealed. Based on the success of your management plan and the responses from customers, the media, stakeholders and other affiliates, the post-crisis letdown offers a great chance to reevaluate your internal policies, brand image, visions and goals, and anyplace else you may see room for improvements.

A crisis can present a serious setback, especially in the absence of a pre-arranged plan. It's the management of that crisis, however, that can make or break your business. The degrees of honesty, responsibility and organization you demonstrate in finding resolution will stick around to define your brand long after the problem itself is old news.

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