August 08, 2017
/ by Lacey Miller
The first rule of PR crisis management is - don’t have a crisis. So many of the black eyes brands end up with are self-inflicted that it seems like everyone from front line workers to the C-suite is overdue for a lesson on how to avoid a public perception nightmare. But even if everyone had that training, bad news that makes it to the public domain is a reality that PR teams need to accept prepare for in advance.
One of the most important things you can do when a crisis hits is drive traffic to your website where you can control the message and move the conversation past whatever went wrong and onto better news. Here are a few ways you can do that.
The name of the game when it comes to negative PR situations is transparency. You want to be as forthcoming with facts as the lawyers will allow. Nothing prolongs a crisis like bad news that drips out slowly or denials that end up being false. In crime and politics, they always say that the cover up is worse than the crime and that can absolutely be true in PR as well. You will certainly want to talk with the media to give your brand’s side of the story, but don’t forget to make your website the best place to find updates, background information, and direct quotes from executive spokespeople.
This is important because once people are on your site, they also have ready access to information about your brand that is unrelated to the issue of the day. They may get there to read a blog post about a product recall or leadership shake up, but once they are there they might also notice a customer testimonial, product promotion, or five-star rating.
It is almost impossible to get negative pages removed from the search engines, even if the information they contain isn’t true, so don’t expect to be able to do that during a PR crisis. But that doesn’t mean that the highest-ranking search results for your brand have to contain bad news. What you can do is turn up the gas on your SEO work in order to have positive content that you control outperform the negative. This means looking for earned media opportunities that aren’t related to the crisis and adding the viewpoint of your brand to the ones that are. It also means optimizing content that you own for the related search terms and promoting it aggressively through social media and other channels.
The middle of a PR emergency is probably not the best time to go for a complete website overhaul, but keeping content fresh is especially important when bad news hits the street. Search engines like to feature content that is new and fresh over older, potentially outdated content. So even if your messaging doesn’t change and your product does the same thing, it pays to go into the key pages on your site and make some changes that indicate to Google and others that the page is alive. This will help with your organic search rankings, which will increase the number of visitors.
The old saying goes, “Hard times will always reveal true friends.” For brands, that means that when a PR crisis unfolds, you may need to turn to your advocates for help. Hopefully, you’ve gone to the effort to identify your advocates, people who support your brand’s mission and vision, and create a program for engaging with them. (If not, now is a good time to get started.) While everyone else might be talking about whatever negative item is in the news, ask your advocates to remind their networks why they became a fan in the first place. They may be able to provide quotes that you can use in your own materials and offer to journalists who are writing about the situation. During hard times, getting your advocates to share your positive content on social media might help readers see that there is more to learn about your brand than they have seen in the headlines.
Managing a PR crisis is no fun for anyone. But your best bet is to have the conversation on your home turf. Anything you can do to get folks to visit your website will put you in a better position to control the narrative and come out unscathed. These tactics for driving people to your website are all useful responses to negative PR that you can’t avoid.
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