Public relations has always been critically important for handling a crisis, successful reputation management and increasing audience buy-in. However, with the pervasiveness of social media, where complaints can go viral quickly, smart PR is the oxygen and the lifeblood of repairing a negative online reputation. PR is the answer to jagged comments pulled from that great and rapid-fire social media complaint box, where your company (or any company) could be the next point of interest.
In fact, one strategically placed and well-written complaint can ruin a company’s online reputation if it’s not handled correctly. Even when 99.9 percent of customers have positive interactions, that .1 percent can wreak havoc, and complaints voiced online need to be dealt with carefully.
Here are other key points to consider when managing a negative online experience:
Time is of the essence. Most customer complaints take only minutes to resolve if handled properly. But when a complaint isn’t handled promptly and with genuine care, it could take years to resolve. In fact, once a complaint goes live, it might be live permanently. Knowing how to respond before events occur is something that PR professionals are trained to do.
Not responding is likely not an option. In most cases, organizations can achieve more success toward reputation repair if they respond rather than avoiding the situation. If an apology is in order, extend the apology and offer an explanation – and never condescend, lie or shift blame. Quickly move the conversation offline to keep negative backlash from airing publicly.
Not responding may be the best option. Some fights you won’t win, and you definitely won’t win against someone who has a big axe to grind publicly. You must avoid a public debate online. Knowing when to walk away is sometimes the best solution. Plus, the more comments and views a post or complaint has, the higher the page rank it will enjoy, and you definitely don’t want complaints outranking positives.
Sites with lots of traffic tend to have more credibility in the minds of consumers. As mentioned above, the site that generated the customer complaint doesn’t need more visits, so don’t frequent that page and add more traffic to it. It’s also important to discourage others from standing up for you and defending you on the forum or web page that bears the complaint source. People untrained in handling complaints may create more damage by trying to stand up for your company.
Look to the future. As with any negative event, PR professionals will acknowledge the situation and stay positive. They can help you focus on the positive and help your audience understand what positives to expect in the future. The quicker your company can respond and move on, the better off it will be. (Once your response has been crafted and carried out, don’t dwell on the past. One approach is to keep curating the conversation to remind your audience of what’s ahead.)
Use negative online comments as opportunities to promote the strong attributes that your company has to share, especially since you’ve likely gained a bigger listening ear from your audience since the beginning of the conflict. Share the news that is interesting and relevant and let it outshine the drama of the bad news.
These are all message topics that PR firms are uniquely suited to handle. The more your PR firm knows about your company, the better equipped it is to develop strategies that push the positive. Through this knowledge of your company, those professionals can identify exactly what will be of interest to the public, and they’ll push that news in a way that generates positive earned media coverage.
You can’t control how others will respond to your product or service. You can control how you will respond. Make sure you’re gaining maximum benefit from a negative situation by working with a smart, savvy and professional PR company like Axia Public Relations. We have the unique qualifications and experience necessary to help companies tell their stories among high-profile websites, and to then get those positive stories ranked higher than the negative. We do this with our NewsBureau media relations services and our ReputationRestoration reputation management service, as well as SEO.
After all, the costs of not responding – or of responding incorrectly – are far too great not to seek professional advice.
by Jason Mudd, APR
Jason Mudd, APR, is the CEO of Axia Public Relations and an Emmy-Award-winning accredited public relations practitioner, speaker, author and entrepreneur. His public relations portfolio includes work for established national brands such as American Airlines, Dave & Buster’s, Florida Blue, H&R Block, Hilton, HP, Miller Lite, New York Life, Pizza Hut, Ray Charles and Verizon, as well as emerging brands like Brightway Insurance, Pragmatic Works and It Works! Global.
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