Can companies contain damage in the social-media age?
Why do some companies emerge from a crisis with a minimum of harm to their reputations and long-term profitability while others suffer severe damage to their names and finances? Damage-control experts say the outcome of a corporate crisis hinges largely on the type of situation and the public’s perception of the company’s response to it. Is the company a victim of the crisis or its creator? If it is culpable, does it accept blame and try to make things right, or evade responsibility and place its own interests first? And how does a company deal with the ubiquity of social media, which can amplify a corporate misstep or even manufacture a crisis through rumor or innuendo?
Here are some key takeaways, based on guidelines developed by corporate-crisis counselors and other experts:
Prepare for crises before they happen by anticipating risks and developing detailed plans to cope with them.
Take control of the crisis narrative before social media, news outlets and competitors do.
Above all, put the interests of customers and the public first.
Resources for Further Study
Barton, Laurence, “Crisis in Organizations II,” South-Western College Publishing, 2001. A crisis management expert emphasizes the need for consistency in messaging when companies and organizations in crisis communicate with the media and the public.
Benoit, William L., “Accounts, Excuses, and Apologies: A Theory of Image Restoration,” State University of New York Press, 1995. An Ohio University communications professor offers examples of image restoration that are useful in the context of reputation repair during and after a crisis.
Coombs, W. Timothy, “Code Red in the Boardroom: Crisis Management as Organizational DNA,” Praeger, 2006. A communications professor at the University of Central Florida provides a clear and well-documented primer for organizations that are undertaking crisis management planning for the first time.
Augustine, Norman A., “Managing the Crisis You Tried to Prevent,” Harvard Business Review, November-December 1995, http://tinyurl.com/
Barnett, Tyler, “Chipotle Knows What It’s Doing By Closing its Stores,” Fortune, Feb. 10, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/
Boston, William, “Volkswagen Reveals Strong First Quarter Operating Profit,” The Wall Street Journal, April 18, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/
Bowman, Jeremy, “What the E.Coli Outbreak Means for Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc.,” The Motley Fool, April 25, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/
Gara, Antoine, and Maggie McGrath, “How Chipotle’s Comeback Attracted Big Data Robots and Value Investors Alike,” Forbes, April 25, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/
Kellerman, Barbara, “When Should a Leader Apologize – and When Not?” Harvard Business Review, April 2006, http://tinyurl.com/
McCann, Erin, “United’s Apologies: A Timeline,” The New York Times, April 14, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/
McGrath, Maggie, “Chipotle Closes The Books On ‘Most Challenging Year’ in 23-Year History With 13% Drop in 2016 Revenue,” Forbes, Feb. 2, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/
McGrath, Maggie, “Chipotle Stock Spikes More than 6% After Q1 Earnings Surge Above Expectations,” Forbes, April 25, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/
Rehak, Judith, and The International Herald Tribune, “Tylenol made a hero of Johnson & Johnson: The recall that started them all,” The New York Times, March 23, 2002, http://tinyurl.com/
Temin, Davia, “How United Became the World’s Most Hated Airline in One Day,” Forbes, April 11, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/
Reports and Studies
Benoit, William L., “Image Repair Discourse and Crisis Communication,” Public Relations Review, Vol. 23, Issue 2, Summer 1997, http://tinyurl.com/
Coombs, W. Timothy, “Crisis Management and Communications,” Institute for Public Relations, Oct. 30, 2007, http://tinyurl.com/
Pearson, Christine, “A Blueprint for Crisis Management,” Ivey Business Journal, January-February 2002, http://tinyurl.com/
Winokur, L.A., “Breakdown and Repair: The Wells Fargo Reputational Crisis and Its Aftermath,” Global Association of Risk Professionals, April 17, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/
The Next Step
Majoo, Farhad, “How Battling Brands Online Has Gained Urgency, and Impact,” The New York Times, June 21, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/
Marshall, Jack, “Backlash to Botched Ads Erupts Faster Than Ever,” The Wall Street Journal, June 19, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/
Pierson, David, “How a social media campaign helped drive Bill O’Reilly out of Fox News,” Los Angeles Times, April 21, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/
Chase, Robin, “What Uber’s Next CEO Needs to Say,” Wired, July 5, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/
Feldman, Brian, “Voting With Your Wallet Won’t Fix Uber,” New York Magazine, June 14, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/
Hawkins, Andrew, “How Uber can emerge from its scandals as a more ethical company,” The Verge, June 30, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/
Global Association of Risk Professionals
111 Town Square Place, 14th Floor, Jersey City, NJ 07310
International professional association of risk managers that provides education and training on best practices for crisis and risk management.
Institute for Public Relations
PO Box 118400, 2096 Weimer Hall, Gainesville, FL 32611-8400
Nonprofit research organization that focuses on crisis management and reputational damage control.
International Association of Business Communicators
155 Montgomery St., Suite 1210, San Francisco, CA 94104
Membership organization of communication professionals from 70 countries that conducts research and education on effective strategic communication, including crisis management.
National Communication Association
1765 N St., N.W., Washington, DC 20036
Scholarly association that supports crisis communications research.
Public Relations Society of America
33 Maiden Lane, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10038-5150
Private organization for public relations professionals.
Baker Library, Bloomberg Center, Soldiers Field, Boston, MA 02163
Harvard Business School website that provides research and new ideas on dozens of business topics, including corporate damage control and crisis management.