It seems that with the rise in public engagement that has naturally followed the growth of social networks, corporate bodies are in a desperate bid to be the first to apologise, humbly.
Admitting mistakes has always been one of the first rules in crisis PR handling. Social media is however not the same conventional in crisis and issues management. In the days of when conventional media were the sole channels at the time of a corporate failure, businesses could not control the message so they had to create a hierarchy of messaging. The apology was quite rightly near or at the top. Now sorry doesn’t seem to be the hardest word for top-tier executives it has become the easiest and sometimes the only word.
Now that corporate bodies can engage directly the messaging needs to be deeper and needs to answer the more complex questions that arise from a crisis situation. With the recent Toyota recall, Miguel Fonseca, managing director of Toyota GB, apologised to customers in a video on the company’s website, apologised on the Today programme and generally echoed that sentiments of worldwide president Akio Toyoda, who was deeply sorry.
What businesses need to do is engage and explain. When WordPress had a major outage last night the organisation used twitter to keep users informed of progress in restoring the site and service. Here is a five point plan that could be applied to most crisis situations:
- Yes apologise, but don’t stop there move on to an explanation.
- Explain ‘what’ happened in the companies eyes
- Explain ‘why’ it happened – this may take time but is brand critical
- Communicate the steps being taken to rectify the problem
- Set up a dedicated and regularly updated communications channel. This is the really important bit. This could be a blog on the company website or perhaps a YouTube channel. It needs to regularly updated and it needs to be open and honest.
When you explain things to people and convince them you are on the case they most will forgive. A apology on its own is mereley regret for past mistakes, it says nothing about the future.