The following is a guest post by Jonas Sickler. Jonas has been managing digital marketing campaigns for years. His experience ranges from content planning for major consumer websites to helping businesses grow their online presence and protect their reputation. You can find him on twitter here: https://twitter.com/
To understand the enormous impact proper crisis planning can have on a business’s reputation, look no further than your local Starbucks. The international coffee chain recently became entangled in a public relations disaster that could have done massive damage to its brand if the response was fumbled. But rather than blame others and take superficial actions, Starbucks did just about everything right.
Image Source: Inc.
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How the Starbucks Crisis Happened
Was a coffee store manager to blame? Does the onus fall on a well-intentioned but misguided corporate policy? Or, as NYU professor Harvey Molotch suggests, is the lack of public restrooms the culprit? Regardless of the root cause, Starbucks is being judged on both the incident and their handling of it.
Starbucks isn’t the only business that limits bathroom access to paying customers. Signs have been posted outside private stores for years with the same policy. By reserving restrooms for clientele, businesses have more control over the availability and cleanliness of their facilities. While policies like these may sound good, they could have serious real-world consequences.
When implementing a policy like this, it’s important to ask certain questions. Will exceptions be made in certain cases? Could subjectivity influence the decision making process? How will individuals react if restroom access is denied? It was only a matter of time before the topic sparked a crisis, and Starbucks happened to be holding the hot potato when the buzzer went off. Many have weighed in about how the brand handled the situation, and overall the company avoided many of these usual pitfalls.
Common Mistakes Brands Make in a Crisis
Failing to Prepare — While it’s impossible to anticipate every public relations disaster, failing to draft a crisis communication plan can worsen or prolong a bad situation. Your team must be ready with a response within the first hour of a crisis situation, and planning ahead can help you avoid mistakes and stay on message.
Making Vague or Conflicting Statements — Companies understandably want to move on from a crisis quickly, but that doesn’t mean they should be dodging questions or feeding the public watered-down information. Issuing conflicting statements can portray your company as disorganized or overwhelmed.
Denial — Downplaying allegations too quickly could paint the brand as insensitive and may be harmful or insulting to any victims involved.
Shifting Blame — Similar to denial, attempting to find a scapegoat emphasizes a lack of accountability within your company and could point to leadership issues.
Exhibition Firings — Firing lower-level executives who were neither responsible for the problem nor the policy can send a message to others that the company isn’t taking the situation seriously.
What Starbucks Did Right
Regardless of what Starbucks does, there will always be critics with the benefit of hindsight. However, compared to many other brands who have faced crises, Starbucks appears to have taken the right steps to control the situation.
- Starbucks was prepared. While the company obviously didn’t anticipate this specific scenario, it knew how to manage a crisis and executed its plan efficiently.
- The CEO accepted responsibility, which emphasized accountability. Rather than blaming the store manager, he continued to express personal accountability and a willingness to make amends with the victims. Crises can be easier to control when the CEO displays strong leadership, alignment and compassion.
- Immediately addressing the employee(s) involved confirmed the company’s stance regarding the situation. While the employee’s intentions may not have been malicious, their actions were out of sync with company protocol. If Starbucks had not taken disciplinary action against those involved, the crisis could have been much worse.
- Reviewing their customer policies illustrates self-examination and a willingness to listen to their customers. Company leadership didn’t just toss out one policy, they made a commitment to reexamine and improve customer experience across the board.
- Closing their United States-based stores for training demonstrated a strong commitment to preventing a similar problem in the future.
Rather than taking the easy route, Starbucks took substantial action. When brands make smart decisions like these during a crisis, their ability to recover is greatly enhanced.
How Brands Can Recover from a Crisis
A quick look at the YouGov brand Buzz score shows that only one month after the incident the amount of negative press around Starbucks is beginning to subside. While the overall news trend hasn’t returned to positive territory, the brand’s handling of the situation has eased the flow of negative articles.
There are several ways brands can begin repairing their online reputations following a crisis:
Expand your digital fortress: If you haven’t claimed all of your social profiles, start there. These accounts carry substantial ranking power with search engines and you control the content published on them. Also look into starting or promoting company and employee blogs to generate more positive buzz.
Use your social media accounts: You don’t have to regularly post to all of your accounts, but setting up profiles with images, logos and business information is a good start. You should also commit to being active on any networks that make sense for your brand.
Become an authority: An excellent way to expand your digital presence is by writing guest posts for other websites in your industry. These posts shouldn’t simply be a press release touting how great your brand is, but they should reference you as an author to build credibility.
Link to positive content about your brand: If there is existing positive content about your brand, do your best to link to it from other trusted websites. Doing so will help this content rank better in search engines.
Sign up for Google alerts: By signing up for Google alerts, you’ll receive notifications of brand mentions so you can react quickly when negative press surfaces.
Online reputation damage needs to be addressed through long-term PR and SEO tactics. By promoting positive brand narratives you’ll improve public perception of your company and provide Google with more content to index, which will ultimately improve your search landscape and protect your reputation in the event of a crisis.
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