Responding to bad press is something every company eventually has to work through. No matter how good your company is at what it does, every business will make mistakes that sometimes materialize as negative publicity. Thankfully, there are constructive ways of dealing with a negative online image. If you find yourself caught in such a situation, you can try out one or more of these techniques.
Perhaps the most famous example for increasing bad press and lack of trust in a brand, is that of Tylenol’s periodic product recalls. One would expect that a nationwide recall on any medical product would simply erode trust in that brand, but one recent study on how product recalls affect brand loyalty has shown that Tylenol’s transparent handling of its occasional recalls has actually increased confidence in the brand. This somewhat counter-intuitive result shows that if you treat customers honourably and fairly in a transparent manner, then even potentially disastrous situations like recalling medicine for a safety reasons can turn out to be an improvement of trust in your brand.
Unfortunately, most bad press situations do not involve this kind of honest interaction of trust with customers. Maintaining your online reputation usually requires a little more than a straight forward transparent recall.
Nevertheless, it’s important to realize that most bad press situations will not seriously affect your sales. In the vast majority of cases, bad press will occur among a subset of the community who are not your target audience anyway. What that means is that most negative articles are written for, and by people who were not fans of your company in the first place. In these cases, your best option is to not respond publicly. But this does not mean you should do nothing at all. During any period of bad press, you must prepare all employees with the facts they’ll need to so they can respond quickly and truthfully to any incoming queries or complaints from your true customers and clients.
In cases where the bad press is factually incorrect, it will be worthwhile to correct the misinformation. Consider contacting the reporter or editor directly, and provide the facts of the story allowing them to issue a retraction in their own words. This is better than publicly falling out with that media source for using incorrect facts, because most people will take the media’s side in any factual dispute, especially against a ‘for-profit’ organization.
In extreme situations, you might be pressed into a corner and forced to respond. If you work with a reputation management company, they will be able to help you draft a personal letter from your CEO to the community. Be open and honest. Even if you must admit mistakes, this will help your brand image to become more trusted over the long term.