In a world rife with technological glitches – and one in which simply clicking a button can have far-reaching impact – making mistakes is inevitable. In the digital age, those gaffes can be dramatically amplified and have impact on your bottom line – unless you take the right steps.
Before the crisis
Crisis management expert Melissa Agnes recommends determining all of your stakeholders in the event of a mishap before it even takes place. Start by making a list of all the different stakeholder groups: your customers, email list subscribers, employees or contractors, and so forth. Then determine which social channels these groups use the most.
“Odds are, social media may not even be the best means of communication for all of your stakeholder groups,” says Agnes. “Often, email is still the best way to communicate.” So, she adds, don’t forget about sending a personalized email or text message, or even picking up the phone.
Determining who to contact and the best ways to reach them before something goes awry is crucial, especially because news has a tendency to spread quickly through social media. And in the midst of a crisis, it can be difficult to juggle all of the tasks that need to be completed while also working to find a list of stakeholders and the best way to reach them. Getting it done ahead of time is a great measure to save you time and ensure you are ready should you ever need it.
We teamed up with Agnes to put together the following steps to take in the event of a company mishap:
1. Immediately publish an explanation of what has happened and the steps you’re taking to address it. In addition, consider reaching out to the customers affected.
This is exactly what AppFirst CEO and co-founder David Roth did when the accounts of customers using the free level of their products were accidentally deleted.
“Immediately, we published a blog explaining in detail the mistake we made, followed by an apologetic email to every impacted customer and, finally, I personally called each one, clarifying what happened,” Roth explained in an interview.
It took him four consecutive days to reach every customer. “A key takeaway is that people are most forgiving if you step up promptly, admit that ‘we made a mistake,’ and then swiftly show them that improving their negative experience matters greatly,” says Roth.
Buffer Founder and CEO Joel Gascoigne swiftly took steps to keep users informed when the company’s site was hacked, publishing a post to chronicle the hack, and adding new update a total of 11 times! The continual updates were also posted on Facebook and Twitter, including both steps to take and updates on progress being made on the company’s end.
2. Make sure your apology is sincere and the amount of information you share is adequate.
GitHub learned this the hard way in the aftermath of a crisis in which a former employee spoke publicly about negative experiences at the company that led to her resignation. The company began a full investigation and explained it publicly, but then wrote an inadequate post discussing the results of the investigation.
GitHub realized through a wide swath of blog posts, tweets and emails that this post was inadequate, and followed up with an apology.
“Last Monday I published the least open and least transparent blog post GitHub has ever written. We failed to admit and own up to our mistakes, and for that I’m sorry,” said GitHub Co-founder Chris Wanstrath. “GitHub has a reputation for being transparent and taking responsibility for our actions, but last week we did neither. There’s no excuse. We can do a lot better.” The post continued, providing the information GitHub users were originally looking for.
3. Follow up with meaningful action.
Weeks after the dust had begun to settle from the GitHub debacle, the company posted an update on new initiatives launched at the company to support diversity and respond to feedback. And even after Buffer found the source of its security breach and closed the vulnerability, the company published a follow-up blog post with steps being taken to increase security.
Actions speak louder than words, so make sure to follow up any promises you’ve made with information about specific actions you are taking to address the issue that was the original cause of the crisis.
Want even more info about handling a company mishap? Check out Melissa Agnes’ infographic: The 10 New Rules of Crisis Communications
Have any examples of smooth or poorly handled company mishaps? Share in the comments.