Unfortunately, positive news and success aren’t the only things that can quickly go viral. In the TMZ media culture we live in, media outlets prey on negative news and hyperbolic sensationalism. Online reviews are often subject to the same dynamics. As a new venture, any start-up must be prepared for the crisis management necessary should bad news regarding your firm go viral.
The first step in heading off any potential situations where bad news regarding your venture could go viral is to be prepared. The best way to head-off a potential media crisis is to be aware of your social media presence via a social media audit. Look at major social media outlets and review sites and see how your venture is being portrayed. If there are negative reviews out there, you want to be aware of them.
Additionally, it may help to retain a PR firm, or someone internally with some crisis communication experience. This crisis communication personnel doesn’t have to be a full-time resource, it can be outsourced to a PR firm or communications shop. The crisis professional should be familiar with your venture and at your disposal when needed.
Should negative news come out regarding your venture, its important to acknowledge news immediately. The worst thing a venture could do is bury your head in the sand or ignore the information. You want to respond to any negative news in a timely manner. Have a single, dedicated responsedrafted by management to address the situation from a corporate perspective. To the extent possible, don’t let media sources (requests for interviews) dictate your response. Stick to a single response and limit your exposure to the media.
One example of effectively handling a bad PR situation comes from a pizza restaurant on the west coast. The company found itself the victim of a few overly critical online reviews. Instead of ignoring these reviews, the restaurant printed the negative Yelp reviews on T-shirts for the restaurant employees to wear. This action helped to make light of the reviews and acknowledge that the restaurant is aware of how customers feel. In the end, customers appreciated the restaurant’s up-front approach to the situation and it reflected the fact that, even with bad reviews, the restaurant is willing to listen to what customers have to say.
Beyond simply acknowledging negative news, use it as a wake-up call to understand what might need to change within your organization (if it’s a review). Alternatively, use the news to understand how the media perceives (or to what extent they follow) your company. Bear in mind, if a great deal of media outlets are following news about your company (your company shutting down, for example), there is a silver lining in that information – it means that there is interest in your venture. You just need to understand how to better cultivate that interest and turn it into a solid customer base.
In the end, companies must understand that negative news often travels faster than positive information. A venture’s success will in large part depend on how well it can handle these situations and effectively manage crisis communications.