Crisis Management for Brands: Protecting Image During Disasters

Last Updated on December 14, 2023

Crisis Management for Brands: Navigate challenges effectively with these tips for maintaining a positive image in difficult situations.

It’s been said that you can tell a lot about a person by how they behave in times of crisis. The same is true of businesses, believe it or not. It’s why having a good crisis management plan is so important.

See, there’s a pretty good chance that no matter what industry you work in, what demographic you target, and what services you provide, you’re eventually going to face a brand crisis of some sort. Skillfully weathering the storm goes a long way towards preserving your brand’s positive reputation.

What’s involved in effective crisis management? How can you navigate your way through a sea of bad press and dissatisfied customers so your brand comes out (mostly) intact?

Start With What Went Wrong

The first and most important step in effectively handling a crisis is to determine what makes it a crisis. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What went wrong?
  • How did it happen?
  • How much damage was done to my business?
  • How much damage was done to my brand?
  • How is this going to impact my customers?
  • How is this going to impact my employees?
  • What can be done to address the problem?

Once you’ve figured out all the details, you can move on to the next step.

Tell People As Soon As Possible – And Be Transparent

In 2011, Sony’s PlayStation Network suffered one of the largest hacks ever experienced. A network outage impacted over million gamers worldwide as a group of hackers broke into the network to steal credit card and financial data. That would be bad enough on its own, save for the fact that Sony took nearly four days to inform its customers of the crisis.

The claim was that they took as long as they did because they had a team of forensic analysts trying to determine how much information was compromised – but it’s one that ultimately rings hollow. If something’s gone wrong with your brand, you cannot wait to inform customers. You need to tell them as soon as possible – and the same goes for internal employees.

“You do not want customers and suppliers to learn about your crisis through the media,” advises Allegiance Capital’s Bruce Condit. “Information on any crisis pertaining to your organization should come from you first. Part of the crisis communications plan must include customers and suppliers and how they will be regularly updated during the event.”

In a crisis, the worst possible thing you can do is attempt to shift the blame, sugar-coat the issue, or try to pretend there’s not a problem. People generally respond with extreme indignation towards such conduct. The negative press an attempted coverup generates will far outstrip any reputation hits you’ll take from revealing the crisis.

Take Ownership of What Went Wrong

At one point or another, you probably dealt with someone who was completely unwilling to take responsibility for themselves. Think back to how irritating it was to work or associate with them. Now ask yourself: what sort of message does it send when a business behaves in the same fashion?

Trust me on this, your brand will win way more friends by owning up to its mistakes than it will by shifting blame or trying to rationalize.

“Workplace studies and anecdotal evidence indicate that we have a higher likelihood of walking away unscathed when we throw ourselves under the bus rather than waiting to be pushed,” explains Business 2 Community’s Sunil Bagai. “The best practice is to resist the urge to rationalize, defend, or formulate excuses for the occurrence. Assuming accountability for errors, and informing our customers of those missteps when we first become aware of them, demonstrates awareness, commitment, and competence – we are not only acknowledging an obstacle, we are also creating an opportunity to explain our resolution at the same time.”

Stay Responsive

When something goes wrong, people are going to start to talk. And when people start to talk, information’s going to start getting a little skewed. You’ve played Telephone before, right?

It’s kind of like that.

As a brand advocate, it falls to you to inject your own voice into the noise. Let people know that you’re listening, that you care, and that you’re taking measures to solve the problem.  Otherwise, you might wind up like Lululemon, which thoroughly mishandled a 2013 incident involving see-through pants.

“The brand started talking on social media, however it was on unrelated topics that had nothing to do with the incident,” writes Search Engine Watch’s Victoria Edwards. “The Lululemon website was also completely void of any information regarding the incident. This wasn’t a good move on their part. The brand should have responded to their customers, instead of ignoring the issue…during a crisis, people start to talk, so it’s up to the brand to respond.”

Make It Clear You’re Doing Everything in Your Power to Fix the Problem

Beyond apologizing for the inconvenience you’ve caused for your customers, you should also take initiative to fix things. How are you going to rectify the grief you’ve caused everyone involved in this crisis? More importantly, how are you going to prevent it from happening again?

“An apology after-the-fact is cold comfort,” says Bagai. “That doesn’t mean an apology isn’t necessary. It means that the best apology is a proactive one – delivered at the time you inform the client of the incident and, simultaneously, of your plans to fix it. The most effective way for us to deal with a crisis – while maintaining the client’s support – is to focus all our efforts on solving the problem before it becomes a prominent blip on the customer’s radar.”

Closing Thoughts

So, there you have it. A general overview of what you should do if your brand experiences a crisis, no matter how great or small. Let’s leave off with an example of crisis management done right, shall we?

Back in 2013, social sharing platform Buffer was hacked. They handled the situation as masterfully as any brand I’ve ever seen. In the process, they transformed could have been a brand-shattering crisis into a net positive.

“Over several hours, I watched as Buffer communicated with media, customers, and their greater social audience,” recalls Search Engine Watch’s Miranda Miller.  “Few were bashing the brand; in fact, the social buzz was largely positive across their channels. Customers praised the company for their transparency and timely communications. I was amazed to see a Buffer rep, Andy, tweeting in response to each and every mention they received at the peak of their crisis. Staff were communicating across their blog, Twitter, Facebook and through the media, to ensure customers were fully informed.”