"Everybody has an opinion. That shouldn't be confused with everybody's opinion matters. " says Sarah Landrum By Sarah Landrum, Founder, Punched Clocks Everybody has an opinion. That shouldn't be confused with everybody's opinion matters. Too often, business owners learn that lesson the hard way as they attempt to beat back a wave of negative publicity. There is the adage that goes, "The only kind of bad publicity is no publicity." That simply doesn't work in this age of instant nasty Yelp review postings and avalanches of spiteful Twitter tweets. A company needs to develop an effective policy for handling a potential scandal when some aspect of that business sets off the alarm bells. Here's what you should do if your business comes under fire: Step 1: Step Back "We've got a problem with (fill in the blank)." No company owner wants to hear those words, especially when they are delivered by an employee who is gripping their smartphone and hyperventilating with each refresh. The beginnings of a business flameout can happen at any time. The kneejerk response is to fire off a direct answer to someone's complaint in an effort to nip this in the bud. You will get a chance to respond (see below). However, before you mobilize a rapid response squad, take a step back. You need to assess the situation from all sides. What part of this problem is your company's fault? What part is an outside vendor? What are you planning on doing to mitigate the issue? Those are all of the things that need to be formulated before your send out your first response. There is nothing wrong with waiting a few hours before answering. It might seem like you're stalling, but what you're really doing is bolstering a strategy that will help you get through this dustup. Step 2: Learn From Others Do you know how a fireman trains to put out fires? They actually set fires and then put them out. Of course, no company wants to create a scandal just to learn from it. However, you are in a fortunate position to review past blowups and see how they were managed. More importantly, you can gauge the social response, as it might apply to your situation. Step 3: Lead With the Facts In your response to a problem, it is always important to lead with the facts. You might not convince some of the original posters who have an ax to grind. Instead, you'll be appealing to those potential customers who are joining in the fracas on the tail end. For instance, suppose you own a restaurant and an unsatisfied customer posts a review claiming the place wouldn't pass a health inspection. Clearly, if you have recently passed a health inspection, than you can knock down that claim with your certification. Sometimes a customer's complaint will be born out of the fact that you never responded to their complaint. It is easy to demonstrate an email chain to back up your responses. Leading with the facts can help tamp down the wild accusations and rumors. Step 4: Make Amends There are some incidents that might not be your company's direct fault. However, because it's your brand on the line, you have to be proactive about making amends. That means acknowledging the problem, accepting responsibility and then taking measures to avoid the mistake in the future. It might also help to provide some give back for your customers. Consider the case of the beleaguered burrito. Mexican fast food chain Chipotle did not have a good 2015. Several food poisoning outbreaks occurred months apart that kept Chipotle in the news and customers away from the restaurants. The company was quick to acknowledge the problem and shuttered the stores believed to be the source of the outbreaks. It still had some brand rebuilding to do. That's why on Feb. 8, it’s shutting down all of the restaurants for a nationwide health and safety review. Chipotle also plans on giving away a free burrito in an effort to bring folks back in the door. Time will tell if their efforts prove successful. Step 5: Ask for Support Your company already has a legion of loyal customers, otherwise you wouldn't still be in business. When a problem erupts, it might help to turn to those supporters and ask for help. Often your own customer base can become your best advocate. Go ahead and mobilize that social media army. That's what they're there for. Step 6: Move On The Internet is a fickle monster. When your company comes under fire it might seem like this is all anyone can talk about. However, it won't be long before a new storm rages and someone else takes the flack. That's good news for your company because if you've weathered the storm, then you can start to rebuild your trust. It will be time to more on with new promotions and ongoing positive engagement of your social network. You addressed the situation and took measures to repair the damage. Time to move on. Even before trouble erupts, it helps to stay engaged with your customers. Not everything has to be about the hard sell. If you've created a community of loyal buyers who trust your brand, then you'll be amazed at how forgiving they can be.
About the guest blogger: Sarah Landrum is a freelance writer and Digital Marketing Specialist. She is also the founder of Punched Clocks, a site dedicated to sharing advice on navigating the work world. Passionate about helping others find happiness and success in their careers, she shares advice on everything from the job search and entrepreneurship to professional development, and more! Follow her for more great tips @SarahLandrum.