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Communication In (Or Not In) Crisis

By Sarah Carper, BARK Social Media Manager + Designer

I’ll never forget my first experience with crisis community management as a marketer.

Fresh out of college, I woke up on a Saturday morning away for the weekend with friends to my social media notifications full of a growing number of red pings for a Facebook page I managed at the time.

Apparently, none the wiser to me or anyone else involved in the public-facing presence of the organization that wasn’t physically there, an incident had occurred at an event they were hosting the night before that made a lot of attendees understandably upset. When they tried to get answers, they were left unanswered for a number of hours, growing angrier and angrier as they were feeling ignored.

I dove in and started responding to the best of my ability, forwarding questions I couldn’t answer to the owners of the organization.

While I got crickets from the leadership, I was getting roars from our followers.

I learned more than a few things from this experience which, thankfully, occurred while I was still in the earliest stages of learning marketing best practices and in the earliest stages of businesses using Facebook as a marketing tool. Fast forward through immediately developing a personal plan for things like this JUST IN CASE, gaining a lot more experience, and serving as a community manager for consumer brands like Pyrex and Corelle, where reviews and brand affinity can make or break your sales, and I was lucky enough to learn skills and successful strategies for communication in crisis to avoid ever again being woken up by social media pings and a wave of panic.

The BARK Firm is committed to helping put our clients’ best branding and marketing feet forward, including in times of crisis like COVID-19 and whatever other PR crises’ you can think of. As an agency, we have our own structure of internal hierarchy that allows us to best handle situations for our clients, and we encourage them to work with us closely to keep things flowing seamlessly.

We think it’s important for every organization, small business or corporation to have a plan, and due to recent events we wanted to share a simple list of tips that can help brands stay cool, calm, collected, and customer-oriented in (or not in) times of crisis.

When scandal or situations strike, oftentimes it is human nature to hole up, zip up, and keep things under wraps until it all blows over. Here’s the thing: people already know something has happened or is happening, and they want answers. To the point that you can protect your company’s operational integrity while still sharing as much information as you can, it is imperative to be honest and transparent with customers to retain trust and relatability–as well as with internal team members (see the crickets comment above). Think about it, if someone upset you then lied to you about it or ran circles around giving you answers, how would you feel? That’s exactly how your customers and followers will feel. Brand transparency = brand affinity.

Helen Keller once said “Optimism is the force that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” Rather than emphasizing negativity in situations, keep spirits high, and be a brand that brings your followers good news with a level of optimism in all of your communications. People want to be reassured, and crisis gives you as a company an opportunity to go above and beyond to provide that for them.

While this relates to transparency, it takes it to the next level by emphasizing the importance of interacting with your audience directly. This can be done especially well using social media and customer service, where customers count on being able to interact with their favorite companies directly. It’s a gift we’ve been given in modern times, whereas businesses in the past had to rely on print, radio and tv media alone for one-sided announcements. Take advantage of the opportunity to directly answer any questions and address any rumors directly in the comments.

People are people, and they have real human feelings that are affected by the events around them and the way they personally react to news and interactions. Put yourself in their shoes when you read any comments, reviews, or otherwise, and respond as you would a friend, or a way that you’d like to be responded to if you were them. It’s true that some people enjoy stirring up reactions on social media and other channels, but putting forth the effort to resolve a situation and understand another’s perspective at least shows others you care.

Anyone who has experienced crisis communication is familiar with how every piece starts moving a lot more quickly, all at once. This can create the temptation to throw up information as quickly as possible, no matter how it looks, no matter what it says. While it’s important to be transparent, be optimistic, be responsive, and be empathetic as explained above, it is also equally important to live your brand and stay consistent in your identity. This further establishes your professionalism and dependability, showing a sense of collected stability to anyone who feels emotionally tied to your brand. So, for our sake and yours, leave the early 2000’s memes and all caps captions in the past where they belong and keep your messaging, color schemes, and other brand elements consistent. You’ll thank us, and so will your audiences.

If marketing through recent events was a bit too much for you to handle, or you want some assistance with these five tips and other areas of your marketing, we’d love to help. Visit us online at thebarkfirm.com or contact us today to learn more about our services.