Small business owners usually wear a multitude of hats and have to deal with a variety of different issues every day. However, some problems are harder to control than others. This is especially true when a public relations crisis occurs. It can badly damage your reputation and your sales. With that in mind, it’s best to avoid PR nightmares before they materialize. Here are a few common PR blunders and how to avoid them.
Your Social Media Manager Is Incompetent
Today, social media is the primary method many people use to communicate with companies. This is even the case for small businesses. However, some owners seem to be detached from the world of social media to the point they just designate the task of posting Facebook updates, tweeting, etc. to any random millennial off the street. This is a mistake. Social media managers who say foolish things online, are rude to customers or just ignore their concerns can quickly erode the public’s trust in a company. Instead, get someone with experience and monitor your social media to make sure it’s in line with how you want your company to be perceived by the public.
Even experienced Social Media Managers can make mistakes. During the playoffs in 2015 against the Dallas Mavericks the Social Media Manager for the Houston Rockets posted this Tweet:
The post went viral (which you would think was a good thing) but resulted in an uproar that ultimately culminated in the firing of the Social Media Manager.
Not Properly Training Your Staff
Staff must be trained on how to act appropriately when interacting with customers and how to act ethically while on the job. If you don’t provide such training, it is your fault when something goes wrong. These days everyone seems to be much more sensitive to any perceived slight. In 2015 IHOP took quite a bit of flak for an “offensive” tweet about their pancakes that said “flat but has a GREAT personality”. Critics claimed it was a thinly veiled jab at less well endowed women.
So unless your target clientele is of the crude nature (Hooters?) be sure to inform your staff on the proper atmosphere you are trying to create with your Tweets.
Small business owners often don’t have years of corporate experience to know how to react in each situation. When faced with criticism from the public, they may be prone to lash out and double down so to speak on not addressing the concerns.
In August of 2015 Tinder was on the receiving end of a blast from Vanity Fair about the “superficial hookup culture of dating apps,” rather than presenting a calm point-by-point response article with case studies, they responded with a flurry of incensed tweets blasting the magazine and the author. Not the best way to win friends and influence people.
Not Addressing the Public’s Concerns
While some things people complain about may be trivial, try to examine a PR snafu from an independent point of view to see if you can understand the concerns that have been raised. Overall, acting like you don’t care about your customers’ complaints may drive away business. Always try to send the message that you care about what they think and attempt to fix things that are actual problems or flaws.
Even Sea World isn’t immune to Social Media problems. As recently as last year, Sea World instituted a campaign called #AskSeaWorld that you would think would provide a good opportunity to interact with the public. But unfortunately everybody from animal activists to Internet trolls took it as an opportunity to humiliate the theme park. For example, PETA posted this question: “Why do you lie and tell guests collapsed dorsal fins are normal when only 1 percent suffer this in the wild?”
Not Hiring a PR Expert
During a PR crisis, it may be a good idea to seek professional help. While you may think you deliver a fantastic product or service, you probably don’t know everything about PR. You may, for example, make statements to the media or do other things that exacerbate the problems instead of fixing them. A seasoned PR expert, however, will know how to safely navigate you out of such a controversy with the least damage done to your long term revenues. You may want to consider hiring a Media Manager with a Masters in Public Relations.
Overall, public relations aren’t something that should only be important to big national chains. Bad PR can also certainly harm small businesses. Try to avoid PR blunders if it’s in your power to do so.