Online and offline crises share a number of similarities, which means monitoring and a plan based on a prompt and credible response can help companies avoid or minimize a major negative impact. However, the way to achieve this in the online world is challenging. The Internet is a catalyst that breaks the barriers of time and space in seconds; it is an additional channel, but faster than others. It also creates new crises scenarios that are not common to the offline scenario, including:
- Rumors, sometimes false, about company policies, products or services;
- Customer complaints or coalitions to put pressure on a sector or a specific company;
- Employee behavior in social networks;
- Fake sites, hacking, security breaches and various forms of cyber-terrorism; and
- Social crisis and cyber activism.
Worst of all, it is almost impossible to erase the traces of a crisis on the Internet — even when it’s over! So, why do these crises happen online? We can identify seven deadly sins:
- Inappropriate personal or corporate branding: On the Internet, both companies and people need to be concerned about their brand. The lack of a branding strategy is a mistake because it confuses our audience, generates doubts about our credibility, and hinders the rest of our initiatives. To reflect who we are — and what we want to transmit in the online environment — our values, style, and image are essential.
- Lack of a monitoring strategy. Although this alone is not enough, having an online monitoring strategy is vital to assess the impact we are having and to react swiftly. Making a big investment is not necessary, given the proliferation of monitoring tools that are free or low-cost and are available through social media and the web.
- A poor or unsuitable content strategy. Generating the policy content of a person or a company should always be preceded by strategic thinking: Who is our target audience? What are the most appropriate channels to get our message across? How can we provide more and offer information that is interesting, amusing, entertaining, and attractive to our audience? What is the ideal content to strengthen and support our branding? We cannot afford to generate content that does not attract interest or that can generate a reputational crisis; we must change course if possible.
- Lack of a proactive strategy. Almost all organizations link their online reputation with the monitoring they undertake and what might be called the reactive strategies they use in response to crises. Being proactive means preparing for the profound changes ahead.
- Reacting in an exaggerated or inappropriate manner to criticism. For many brands, managing criticism in the online world is the Achilles heel. Yet accepting constructive criticism is a sign of maturity and responsibility in organizations that take their reputation seriously. Online communication managers of institutions and brands should think twice before making mistakes, but if they do, taking responsibility and apologizing to the audience is the best choice.
- Failure to defend ourselves from the attacks or doing it badly and too late. There are times when the attacks on our reputation may be orchestrated due to malicious motives, so it’s important not to feed the proverbial “troll”. When justified, it is desirable to defend ourselves either by denying false rumors about, or by asking for an apology, etc.
- A lack of adequate information. The six mistakes previously mentioned could be minimized if the people involved in online reputation (marketing and communication departments, etc.) had access to the right information. Prevention is better than a cure, and a firm commitment to staff training can certainly prevent greater mistakes.