Mandy Suess


Online Crisis! Get a grip! Fast!

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There have been some rather unpleasant stories in the news this week. A out of control politician,  undeclared donations to a major political party,  homophobic behaviour at a fast food chain are just a few.

Some of it was dealt really badly with. A crisis doesn’t give you the right to to try and hide or play down the issue or worse – lying about it.

And we talked about this before. There are times you need to call the doctor & deal with it. Fast:


Ten steps for managing an online crisis

1. Act swiftly. Perhaps you sell capital equipment or professional services or product packaging. Surely your organization doesn’t have any issues. In today’s digital world, an employee could say something racist online. A customer could have it out for you and spread lies through their Facebook page. A competitor might engage in whisper campaigns against you. The only way to win at that game is to be prepared, have a communications expert on your team (or have one on speed dial), and act swiftly. Not in a week, not in a month, not in three months. That same day.

2. Address the problem. It’s no fun having to come out and say you screwed up or something bad has happened or you made a mistake. It kind of sucks, actually, but it’s the only way to prevent a crisis. It’s amazing how two little words work as well as they do: I’m sorry. Not, “I’m sorry, but…” Just, “I’m sorry.”

3. Communicate the story. When a story gets out of control is when you haven’t told your side and people begin to speculate. Like with Tiger Woods when the tabloids were speculating he was going in and out of a sex addiction clinic (he wasn’t): He hadn’t told his side so they began to make things up based on what little information they had.

4. Communicate where it happens. If an issue or crisis is exploding on YouTube, that is where you take to the waves to tell your story. When employees were caught sneezing and spitting in food on video, the Domino’s CEO recorded a video and his team posted it to YouTube. He apologized in the same spot people were looking for the employee video.

5. Hire a communications expert. I’m not talking about someone who knows how to use social media. I’m not talking about someone who works for a company that has experienced an issue or crisis. I’m talking about someone who has deep and intense experience in managing an issue or crisis. Typically these people work in PR firms and specialize in crisis communication or reputation management. It’s unlikely a company will go through enough issues or crises in its lifetime to give someone the expertise you’ll need if something bad happens.

If you can’t afford a communications expert, become friends with someone who can help you think through issues as they arise. Put them on your advisory board. If you have a paid board, add them to that. Have that person on speed dial.

6. Think before you act. Yes, things happen in real time. Yes, we live in a 24×7 world. Yes, it’s fast-paced and you have to act quickly. But that does not excuse you from thinking. When we were kids, my dad used to tell us all the time, “Don’t ever put anything in writing you don’t want used against you later.” That’s very sage advice in today’s digital world.

7. Empower your team. Let your team help. Set the expectations and boundaries, give them the tools and resources they need to be successful, and let them at it!

8. Say I’m sorry. I know we covered this already, but it’s worth repeating. Of course, you have to mean it and it can’t be accompanied with the word “but.” When you practice saying “I’m sorry” in your everyday communications, it becomes easier to say it—and mean it—when an issue develops.

9. Back down when you’re wrong. If you hold a position on something and someone points out there is a double standard or you’re being hypocritical, reassess your policy.

10. Have a communications expert on speed dial. Oh, I already said this, didn’t I? Whenever I repeat this to friends, colleagues, or peers, someone will text me with some smarty pants remark such as, “How quickly do you respond to communication crises?” Have someone on speed dial who has lots and lots and lots of experience with issues and crisis management. You might think you’ll never need it—and maybe you won’t—but Murphy’s Law dictates the second you don’t, something will happen. It’s like having insurance: If you have it, you won’t need it.

Now it’s your turn. What do you advise a client to do when the online fallout is so great it feels like the whole world is writing about it?


Author: mandysuess

Founder of Mandy Suess PR, an international agency established in 1995 and now operating from New Zealand. Because it's nice here :-) I do the occasional blog on PR related topics, you will find helpful For my "domestics" please see

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