Amongst some of the workshops I conduct for digital marketing and social media, crisis management is quickly becoming a hot topic. As evident by recent high profile examples, PR crisis are increasingly common on social media. For businesses, it is now important to learn the techniques for identifying crisis and finding ways to quickly mitigate the situation before they spread like wildfire in the summer heat.
Today there is a wide selection of technology that allows businesses to monitor situations and reputation online. Even if you think your brand is immune to such issues, social media monitoring tools are still useful for competitive and customer research.
However, as all technology goes, people are usually the weakest link in the chain. This issue is particularly apparent when it comes to online criticism. It is important to note that one or two criticisms do not constitute a crisis, although they will quickly snowball into one if these initial complaints are not dealt with swiftly.
Training staff on technology is easy but it is much harder teaching them to handle criticisms. Here are some ways you can better prepare yourself or your staff for the eventuality.
- Learn from your past. It is good to collect all past criticisms be it yours or someone else’s. Go through them and ask how you would have responded differently. This should expose some of your past mistakes and allow you to come up with some better ways of handling criticisms, particularly when you are not in an agitated state.
- Learn to delay your response. Accept that it is perfectly natural for you to be defensive. It is built into our well developed fight or flight response and at the first sign of conflict, our defenses are typically up. But there is wisdom in giving yourself some breathing space; Decisions made in anger is never good.
- Respond, Don’t React. And when you do respond, make sure you look at all the information and respond accordingly to the points presented. Leave emotions at the door.
- Practice repeating the criticism back. You know how some TV personalities like to repeat the questions when they need to buy time to think of the answers? Well this is the same principle. Repeating the criticism back, whether verbally or in writing, gives you some time to assess the comment, distill the facts from emotion and detach yourself from the issue.
- Detaching yourself from the problem. Most of the time, the criticism is really directed at a project or an outcome rather than at you. It is not personal and if you can see the problem from the other person’s perspective, you could typically see the flaw and be able to suggest a solution.
- Ask more “what” questions. “What” questions force everyone to look at the problem rather than the motivation behind it which is a slippery slope that leads quickly to finger pointing and personal attacks. You don’t want that.
- Smile more. Lastly, practice smiling when you are responding to criticism. Do it even when you are composing a response online. Studies have shown that smiling makes you calmer and stabilizes your emotions. Exactly what you need when faced with negative comments and people.
Remember that criticisms can be helpful. Through my career I find that I learned and grow the most with criticisms. Your toughest, most critical customer is your best mentor. Learn and do not run from it. But before you can harvest the goodness from criticisms, you will have to master the art of responding to them.