Sometimes in the midst of putting out the fire of a public crisis, brands make missteps. (That’s why it’s important to always have a crisis plan before a crisis happens, which we’ll cover more next week.) It’s a confusing time: everything is moving super fast, and it’s easy to say and do the wrong thing as a brand.

We’re here to guide you a little bit on what not to do—and what to do instead.

—DON’T wait for days to apologize, like the CEO of United Airlines did after the video surfaced of a passenger being forcibly dragged off a United flight. INSTEAD, get ahead of the story by releasing a statement as soon as possible that acknowledges what occurred. You don’t have to know all the answers in your first statement; in fact, you probably won’t. But it’s better to get something out into the public sphere about the incident to show that you’re aware of it than to wait for four days until your team has perfected every last phrase in the release.

—DON’T think your brand will avoid being dragged through the mud on social media. Upset consumers tend to take to social media to express outrage (even if sometimes that outrage is misplaced). INSTEAD, brief your social media on the incident, craft language for them to use in public conversation with consumers, and reiterate the process your team has created for handling social media complaints.

—DON’T deflect blame. INSTEAD, take responsibility for what you know happened, and ensure the public that you’re working to better understand what happened.

—DON’T be callous of give a half hearted “sorry, but” apology. INSTEAD, extend an authentic apology for what your team did (to the extent that you know they did it), then show that you’re prepared to take meaningful action to right the wrong.

—DON’T think the situation will dissolve by ignoring it. Does that ever work?  INSTEAD, continually monitor public response to the incident, and tailor your outreach plan accordingly. Depending on the scale of the crisis incident, your brand’s ongoing plan may need to include community hearings, outreach programs, or other events or materials that help your community or audience regain its trust in your brand. 

—DON’T think it could never happen to you. Most brands will phase a crisis of some kind. INSTEAD, accept that there’s a good chance your brand will have to deal with a crisis of some kind (big or small) and develop a plan for if that happens.

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Related Posts: What counts as a PR crisis?