Posted by Kristine Jacobson

20190906In the age of social media, public relations is a fast-paced and frenzied affair. Gone are the days when a corporation could hide scandalous news or disastrous mistakes by bribing a few reporters: today, a single tweet or YouTube video can spread like wildfire within minutes of publication, reaching the headlines of mainstream media within 24 hours. 

Recent history is writhe with examples of corporations caught in this cycle, including no fewer than five airline companies. From altercations with passengers to needlessly aggressive security detail, onlookers – who may not be getting the full story – are easily swayed by sensational news to the side of outrage, leaving businesses desperate for a fair hearing, or at least a chance to redeem themselves. 

How Serious is A Media Crisis? 

There are consequences to the outrage machine: last year, research showed that the top 8 companies embroiled in a scandal since 2010 had lost 30% of their value since the story broke. But fortunately for most brands, Internet outrage and negative media attention – while risky – is rarely the end of the world. 

The evidence suggests that even the worst scandals rarely last very long. In 2017, ride-sharing company Uber took advantage of a taxi driver strike in the state of Texas by temporarily raising the price on rides. In response, over a hundred thousand Twitter users retweeted the hashtag #DeleteUber. 

But if anyone did delete the Uber app, not many joined them. According to Google Trends, the hashtag’s popularity peaked and declined within a week of the event, showing that – in some cases – all a brand has to do is…nothing. 

At the same time, “doing nothing” is not always the best answer. And in those cases, the longer a business takes to formulate a response, the more damage it will take to its customer base and bottom line. 

Five Steps to Managing a Negative Press 

There is some good news: although outrage fueled by the media is a relatively new phenomenon, it occurs often enough that it has also been studied. A crisis management course at MIT dedicates an entire day to the topic.  

For brands who don’t want to face the wrath of a sudden media outburst, there are simple and well-tested steps for prevention and remediation. We’ll share the best, starting with: 

  1. Assess the situation

Before you can do anything about a social media crisis, you must think like a reporter by assessing the what, where, why,” and “when” of the story and its components. Ideally, you will have noticed the spread of negative attention as soon as it began. But no matter when catch the scoop, wait until you determine three crucial details before issuing a response: 

  • What are people upset about? – read all the coverage you can find until you know the exact reason for a negative story. Early on, it may be necessary to piece details together from disparate sources and social media posts. 
  • How are you responsible? – determine how much your brand is responsible, and in exactly what way. Strictly speaking, it’s not true that “the customer is always right”. Ask relevant people about their role in the situation and review any documentation. 
  • Are any details missing?  after putting together the developing media narrative and your inside perspective, assess how accurately the public understands what happened and your company’s role. Make note of discrepancies, and decide which are important. 
  1. Develop a response

Depending on the findings of your initial assessment, you will have to decide whether to dispute false information, accept culpability, or a little of bothPoorly worded responses will only make things worseso take the time to develop one that accurately reflects your brand’s position and won’t heighten passions. 

Whether or not your brand is really at fault, remember that real people are really upset, and a callous tone will only upset them further. Although it may be tempting to immediately refute negative media attention, be prepared to express regret and show that your brand does care. 

  1. Issue a real apology

To the extent that your brand has done something genuinely wrong, genuinely apologize.  

  • Acknowledge your wrongdoing by name, and don’t hide behind euphemisms: say “server outage,” not “technical difficulties” 
  • Keep it simple, and say you’re sorry. As obvious as this step might be, corporations often hide behind the “nonpology” which is a sure way to make things worse 
  • Express an authentic intention to do better, and be as specific as you can.  

Clinical, “corporate” language has probably never been the most effective way to reach the public, but it is especially ineffective now. Consumers trust businesses that sound like people, and not like robots. 

  1. Remediate damages

In certain cases, saying “sorry” just won’t cut it. If your brand has caused significant grief for individuals, other companies or groups of people, regaining public trust begins with remediation. Here are some examples: 

  • If customers received damaged, subpar or falsely advertised merchandise, offer vouchers for a replacement 
  • If your brand was responsible for a service failure, upgrade your equipment, hire new staff or invest in training 
  • If insensitive, hateful or otherwise outrageous content was somehow associated with your online presence, donate to a charitable organization that advocates for the affected parties or cause 

Since remediation means putting money where your mouth is, many companies will only use it as a last resort: but remember that remediation is an investment in consumer trust, which pays incalculable dividends. 

  1. Preventfuture incidents

As the old saying goes: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Before a media disaster ever happens, take steps to be prepared –  

  • Identify areas of vulnerability – in the worst-case scenario, consider the most likely ways that your brand would end up in a scandal. 
  • Determine risk and impact – assess how likely the worst-case scenario is to happen, and how it would impact your brand.  
  • Take preventative measures – based on risk and impact, tighten up your company’s performance in areas that could cause a scandal in the worst-case scenario 
  • Track media mentions – always be aware of the conversations surrounding your brand online. By catching frustrations early on, it is possible to prevent a negative story from snowballing into a media disaster 

Be Your Own Media 

In 2019, there is no reason for a company to let others define the narrative of their brand: make sure you know what it takes to develop a successful content marketing strategy that extends your brand and turns clients into advocates.  

When a media disaster hits, loyal customers and other followers frequently become your greatest defenders. Maintaining an active and vibrant online presence is the best way to build and retain a community around your content, vision and goals.  


Conveyance Marketing Group is a team of bright, innovative and talented veteran marketers dedicated to big ideas, fresh insights and measurable results. We pride ourselves on taking challenging marketing issues and turning them into opportunities for our clients, on pointing brands in the right direction, and on getting our customers noticed both online and off. From branding to websites to digital marketing, and public relations, we handle all your marketing communication needs! Web Design and Development | Brand Strategy | Inbound Marketing | Social Media | SEO | PR

Kristine Jacobson

Kristine Jacobson

Kristine Jacobson has more than 25 years of marketing and communications experience with notable corporate leaders as well as emerging market contenders. She offers expert marketing strategy with a touch of creative flair. Her extensive knowledge of strategic marketing, marketing plan execution, and branding illuminate the big picture without losing sight of the details.