My, we’ve certainly had our fair share of crises of late. Whether you’re the police in Ferguson, Mo., or Roger Goodell of the NFL, it’s never fun having your organization or self in the news with advocacy groups breathing down your neck. And the media is no help. They often times fan the flames of the crisis more than report on it, sensationalizing details and attempting to echo public outrage.
While fortunate to not have had a laundry list of crises under my belt, I’ve certainly had my fair share of run-ins. Because of the nature of user-generated content, I can report that during my tenure at Cafepress, I (or I as proxy) was called a terrorist, fat shamer, misogynist, racist and pedophile. Never mind that Cafepress is like YouTube. They supply the engine that plays the videos (prints the design on various products). The users supply the videos (designs).
Makes for a fun day at work.
A recent conference attendee asked how I would handle the NFL’s communications right now in light of the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson controversies. My answer precisely mirrors how I’ve handed the ones I’ve dealt with in the past.
Open yourself to the conversation
The worst you can do in a crisis is not respond or comment. The best way to handle a crisis is to engage your critics, but not in a defensive manner. Open yourself to their opinion, feedback and commentary. When I was attacked once by a women’s advocate for being sexist, I responded with, “Because what I said was a joke, I’m not sure I understand the anger in your statement. I don’t want to upset anyone. Can you help me understand?“
Instead of being defensive and confrontational, I simply said I needed help understanding her perspective. I declared I was willing to listen and perhaps change. That stance goes a long way in saving you from further vitriol.
It may take some focus, but when your detractors are detracting, they don’t want to be interrupted and they want you to hear their full arsenal of complaints. Listen intently to what they say, take notes about the major points and even recognize inaccuracies or inconsistencies in what happened and how they’re responding.
Surely no one on the Internet would jump to conclusions without fact-checking! Heh. Be prepared to inform them if need be, but hear them out first.
Own your responsibility
Whether you agree with the fact that you have upset the group or person in question, you or your actions are responsible for their state of upset. You can’t take a “not my problem” approach. It is your problem, whether you intended to create it or not. Now you have to own it and own the responsibility for follow through to correct it.
Become the critic
Assessing the perspective of the critic or detractor, take their input to heart, ask serious questions of your organization or brand. Did you do something wrong? Could you have stopped it? Perhaps more importantly, what can you do to prevent it from happening in the future? Proactively share some of those ideas and show you are actively working through the issue and not just placating those upset.
Another tactic here is to simply invite the advocacy group or detracting agent to the table to advise you on how to address the problem. The more close to the fold they are with your internal discussions, the more they’ll acknowledge your efforts to fix and perhaps even lighten their stance when they see your side of the issue more closely.
You can’t afford to sweep things under the rug once things calm down, either. All the work and outreach and partnership to that point becomes moot and you again become a sonofabitch for playing lip service to ideas rather than addressing the issue.
The NFL has no choice but to crack down on domestic violence and even child abuse among its players and staff as a result of the Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice issues. If it doesn’t, it risks losing trust, fans and sponsors. You’ll need to take action, too. Hopefully, you’ll have your critics along side as you take that action so they spread the word for you. If not, you should certainly include them as early in the process as possible.
Keep in mind these elements are really more focused on organizational crisis communications. Dealing with online detractors (trolls) is less severe and requires a fair amount of command of the situation. When a non-profit advocacy group comes after you, it’s a different level of cause for concern. But these activities have always worked for me.
And I know a thing or two about pissing people off. ;-)
How have you handled crises in your company? Did I leave out any important steps? The comments are yours.