If you’re a business owner or prominent member of the community, there’s a chance you may have the unfortunate experience of dealing with a sudden and tragic event. It’s difficult to know exactly what to do first when responding to a sensitive situation, and with the rapid-fire nature of social media, there’s added pressure to respond instantly. While these unforeseen and delicate events are never created equal, there are general guiding principles from a public relations perspective that you can lean on to ensure your response is timely, considerate and positively contributes to moving forward.
Apologize, even if it’s not your fault. Apologizing doesn’t necessarily mean you or your business needs to take responsibility for something out of your control. Simply beginning by expressing that you’re sorry it happened or that people were negatively impacted, shows empathy and care.
Explicitly share details. Unless there’s an ongoing investigation which prohibits you from sharing details publicly, share what you do know, what you do not know, plus how those details will affect your customers or audience. You never want to appear as though you’re trying to hide something or skirt away from important topics.
Bring comfort to your customers. Depending on how your business or organization is involved, take steps to make your key stakeholders feel safe or secure in the moment. Whether it’s providing resources to those affected, words of encouragement or sharing your own emotion, it shows you’re in it together versus watching from atop.
Take action to make changes. When tragedy strikes, people want to know what you’ll do to ensure it never happens again. Even if you don’t have an immediate answer, you can still communicate that change will happen, that special teams have been appointed to make changes and that you will provide a vehicle for ongoing communication and updates as you make progress.
Do not promote your business or its services. This seems like common sense, but it’s often surprising to see how many businesses or people have tried to use a tragic moment to benefit their reputation or business. In most cases, it will backfire. If anything, you may want to consider pulling your current ads to ensure you don’t appear tone deaf, and replace them with more sensitive messaging around hope or crisis response.
Designate specific people to speak. Only approved members of leadership should speak on behalf of your business or organization, especially on social media! One opinionated employee could hurt your reputation forever. While you cannot control your employees’ activity on their personal social platforms, you can provide recommendations for approaching the topic with fact, grace and sensitivity.
If you have to endure a tragedy at some point, these tips are a great place to start, but every situation—and your involvement—is different. Hire a communications agency, such as Insight Creative, to help you develop a custom crisis response plan that can help you navigate your situation with clarity and integrity.
Emily was managing editor of the national cable marketing magazine delight!, and previously managed marketing projects for top cable providers in the nation. Diverse writing experience, combined with exceptional organization and strategic planning skills, make Emily a key component of the content department. Emily holds a degree from UW-Oshkosh in journalism, with an emphasis in advertising/public relations.