At the moment, it may seem that the hardest part of your startup journey is behind you. You’ve secured funding, your product/service is selling, and the social love is flowing. Congratulations! In this honeymoon period, it’s probably difficult to imagine that things could go horribly wrong for your startup.
However, large companies like United Airlines, Equifax, and Uber know, a public relations problem can quickly spiral out of control and become a full-fledged catastrophe if not handled correctly, costing you time, money, and, most importantly, consumer trust and loyalty. For a startup businesses, the stakes are even higher — a too-large crisis might be impossible to bounce back from.
Fortunately, there are ways to minimize a crisis without waiting for one to occur. Here’s how to plan so you can move quickly when problems arise.
Make sure you know who’s in charge.
Startups have an advantage over larger companies because there aren’t multiple levels of senior management to get through in order to get a response. However, there still can be confusion about who’s in charge if something goes wrong. In a time of crisis, you don’t want various people sending mixed messages on various channels.
Before things go down, organize a chain of command that makes it clear who is responsible for what, and what the threshold is for issues being escalated before anyone can act. You want employees empowered to do their jobs, but also able to quickly identify when something needs to be raised and who should be contacted.
Observe what’s going on; in and outside the organization.
While a crisis can emerge seemingly out of nowhere, the truth is that often, there are early warning signs of trouble. You’re probably already monitoring your brand’s mentions in the news, but to be truly thorough, expand that list. Keep tabs on what mentions your senior execs are getting — are journalists paying attention to what they’re saying and doing?
Engage in some professional stalking and follow any mentions your competitors might be getting as well. If they’re getting flack for something, you may be up next. Along those lines, following what’s happening in your industry as a whole is important, too. Even if your business isn’t directly involved, you might get pulled into a current events problem by association. Keeping abreast of what’s going on and what your company’s position is means you’re prepared to address questions head on.
Prepare statements in advance.
Preparing as much as possible really helps in situations where time is of the essence. Having clear general statements that have already been reviewed by management and legal and can be released when disaster strikes will buy you some time while the team assess the situation and prepares something more comprehensive.
Offer solutions, not excuses.
Businesses often make a problem worse by putting the blame on someone else or covering up bad news. If your company has messed up, take responsibility. Explain what happened, the consequence for customers, and most importantly, what your company is doing to fix it. Stick to your key messaging and resist blaming anyone. Bonus points if, once you’ve taken tangible steps to fix the issue, report back to customers on what the business has learnt and how it will avoid the same problem again.
By being proactive and taking control of the story, you’ll reduce the chances of someone else, like a competitor, shaping the narrative for you.