Maybe it is the start of your vacation, the holiday shut-down period, or perhaps it is just another Friday evening. Whatever the situation, it often means work mobiles are switched off, emails are re-directed, and a skeleton staff are managing the office - and the brand's social media.
Sadly, PR issues do not operate on a schedule. With 4.02 billion internet users world wide, any of of these could create an issue with a single social media post at any moment, regardless of working hours. This means that holidays, weekends, or even the middle of the night can create the perfect conditions for an issue to mutate into a full blown crisis.
In our latest ebook, we asked PR experts who have experienced such events to share best practice on how to prepare your team, so that you are able to emerge from the issue unscathed. Here we share one expert’s experience of a crisis unfolding over a public holiday:
"Be aware of what your employees are saying publicly" - David Johnson, Founder of Strategic Vision PR Group.
“One of my clients provided engineering work to the State of Georgia and surrounding municipalities. A company employee also served as a county commissioner, and over the Martin Luther King holiday, he posted an attack on his own website about Democratic icon, Congressman John Lewis. The post criticized the Congressman’s refusal to attend the Trump inauguration and called John Lewis a racist. As can be imagined, that generated controversy and polarized responses.
“Being a public holiday, the company premises were virtually empty apart from one person who picked up the phone – unfortunately it was the press at the other end.
“Having had no previous crises, the company had no strategies in place. The press were the first to know. Their social pages were inundated with messages of hate and they were quickly facing calls for municipalities to cancel contracts and to boycott the company.
“Having a new relationship with the company, I designed a response outlining that the company had been unaware of the posting, it in no way reflected the company, that the owner of the company was himself a minority, stressed the community involvement of the company, how the company had donated funds for the Martin Luther King Centre to purchase Dr. King’s papers, and the action it was taking with the employee – suspension and sensitivity training. We also developed a social media policy for the company employees. Finally, we had the owner of the company send his response to not just the media but every municipal leader the company did business with, as well as, personally call them.
“By addressing the issue and getting our response out immediately, media scrutiny and protests against my client ceased completely.
“The employee had not understood or considered the impact that his personal post would have on his employer – he was simply defending his political beliefs. In today’s social-led world, it’s crucial for PR professionals to never forget their internal audience. Start by providing training on the effects of airing personal views online and emphasize the fact that employees represent the company 24/7, especially during conversations in public when reporters could be eavesdropping.
“When a crisis does hit, training will stand them in good stead for not telling friends, family or social media that they don’t know what’s going on, stating the wrong facts or saying the company are inept.”
Preparation is key
As David’s experience suggests, it’s vital to ensure that employees understand that they represent the company 24/7 and that they are aware of the consequences of airing their personal views online. It is also important to set up 24/7 monitoring of your social media pages and the wider web – especially over the holiday period - so that your PR team can always stay ahead of an issue and the press.
To read more first-hand crisis management advice and strategies for dealing with a variety of PR issues, download your free copy of 6 ways to be the best at preparing for the worst.