Dealing with negativity and crisis communications

With the uncertainty of the world at the moment many people are in difficult situations, therefore understandably feeling very negative as a result. During 2020, I dealt with more negativity and crisis as a public relations professional than in the previous 3 years. With the ever-changing environment and the increased amount of time people are spending online nowadays it can be easy to make a public misstep and with this can come negative comments. In the midst of a heightened environment within the world, it was easy to slip into a highly strung mindset. I have seen plenty of companies, individuals and charities who have lost their way over the past 12 months. Even if they have done nothing wrong, they can sadly find themselves at the sharp end of a keyboard warriors’ words.
In the 2021 Global Crisis Survey, 95% of business leaders reported that their crisis management abilities needed improvement. As a result of witnessing so many of these issues firsthand, I have constructed a plan on what you can do in a time of crisis. Having a plan in place is vital to ensure that the event doesn’t have a lasting impact on your business. Here are the methods that I recommend-

1. Avoid a crisis at all cost – this may appear obvious but the best way to manage a crisis is to simply not have one in the first place. Make sure all your staff are aware of your business values and of what is appropriate conduct online. It is vital that you ALWAYS proofread any press or social media posts before they go out. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
2. Consider what crisis could occur so that you can plan ahead – no one wants anything to go wrong but it may be best to sit and think about what inevitably could. By scoping out possible routes of dilemma.
3. Have a team in charge of crisis and negativity. This could involve certain executives, your PR, plus legal staff. By surrounding yourself with like minded people, chances of you cushioning any potential fall will be much greater.
4. Nominate a suitable spokesperson who will be your public voice and face during a crisis.
5. Social Media is key for quickly getting information out quickly. This is a vital part of a wider communications plan surrounding a crisis. For example, many companies will publish a statement on their social media accounts so that it reaches a wide audience. Most recently the FA released a statement condemning those hurling racist abuse at some of the England players, by utilising their platforms they were able to spread the message that racism is never condoned.
6. If something goes wrong don’t try to ignore it – be honest and forthright. Whilst you might be too scared to tackle an issue head on, it is important to be diligent and assertive. By moving as quickly and swiftly as possible you eliminate chances of your crisis being long lived.
7. Gather the facts and report them quickly – if nothing is known, report that.
8. A heartfelt apology will go much further with your audience who will appreciate we are all human and can make mistakes. Acknowledge deep emotions. By showing humane transparency you will make it clear that we are all only human and none of us as perfect.
10. Communicate regularly. From my experience working within public relations, I know how important it is to communicate clearly and regularly. Without voicing your conditions or concerns, you prevent a natural flow of progression in your dilemma being solved.
11. Learn from the previous crisis – what has gone wrong in the past? What steps have you taken to ensure this doesn’t happen again?

Dealing with Negative or Inappropriate Messages
These situations have been on the rise over the past year. As we are living much of our lives online due to the world around us being temporarily closed, it has been made easier for trolls and online haters to spread negativity. In order to resist these hateful messages, it often helps to have an outside pair of eyes helping you. It can be nasty and personal to be at the receiving end of online abuse, so by having a second opinion you will be able to realise that these people are just cowards who hide behind a screen, rather than real critics.

1. Take a look at the individual’s profile if the person posting negatively is not known to you. You can often tell if this is a regular pattern of behaviour for them.
2. Take the conversation off a main social media page to private messaging. Make it clear on the main page that this is being dealt with.
3. It may be worth reminding your followers of appropriate behaviour online with a main post. Make sure people know how to contact you if they have a genuine grievance.
4. Sometimes the individual involved will need to be blocked from your social media and reported.

It isn’t the end of the world
Whilst a period of crisis or negativity can feel like a never-ending black hole at the time, we are always stronger than what we think and we can always rise above it. In order to deal with crisis communications you need to put in place strategies and tools that will help you in a time of need- planning is always key. By putting your best foot forward, you ensure that any issue will stay in the short term rather than the long term.

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