It happens. And to even the best of startups.
The media portrays you in the wrong light or quotes you on something you said off the record. Your launch was a mess and now everyone knows about it. Your social media media accounts were hijacked. Your product’s privacy has been called into question.
You’ve been defaced.
Right now, you may be nervously repeating to yourself, over and over, “bad publicity is better than no publicity, right? RIGHT?” And there is some truth in that statement but in most cases, it all comes down to your ability to react appropriately and effectively. Your ability to save face.
You Said What ?
In most startup PR nightmares, there’s typically two situations. One, where you’re knowingly at fault and one, where you kind of are but it was out of your control. In the case of the former, it really does happen to the best of us. You launched when you weren’t ready. You failed to fix those bugs that were vital to the privacy and security of your product. You made an off-colour remark when you thought you were off record. A disgruntled employee went rogue.
With social media, even the non-startups face many of the same PR nightmares that a startup does. HMV learned this the hard way in January, when a an angry social media manager made one last social outreach on HMV’s behalf, as he and many others were about to be let go. The tweet, about the immediate mass-firing of HMV employees complete with the hashtag #hmvxfactorfiring, was seen by 60,000 followers and retweeted 1,300 times in 30 minutes. And it didn’t stop there. The guilty tweeter, later identified as Poppy Rose Cleere sent out seven subsequent tweets, over 30 minutes, before HMV regained control.
HMV immediately responded by removing the tweets, addressing the issue, and even making use of the employee’s hashtag for maximum reach. They were extremely genuine and empathetic to the situation and those involved. But regardless of how sincere they were, it didn’t change the fact that everyone in the media was talking and questioning their company ethics.
You Did What ?
Much like it’s easy to say the wrong thing, at the wrong time – it can be just as easy to do the wrong thing or not do the right thing. Sometimes it’s merely a case of failing to inform the public of how your product really uses data, images, etc. that can turn into a media backlash. It’s important, no matter how at fault you are, to handle the situation as professionally and as quickly as possible.
Snapchat, an application for iOS and Android that offers real-time picture chatting with friends (snap a photo, send to a friend, it self-destructs after viewing), received more heat this year than any new startup would like. Not only was it called by some, an app for sexting – its privacy measures were called into question this May, when the public began to look into exactly where the images you snap go, once they supposedly “self-destruct.”
When digital forensics examiner, Richard Hickman discovered the photos were still stored, deep within your mobile device, Snapchat received a slew of backlash. “The actual app is even saving the picture,” explains Hickman to KLS.com. “They claim that it’s deleted and it’s not even deleted. It’s actually saved on the phone.” Snapchat’s team quickly responded, stating “There are many ways to save snaps that you receive – the easiest way is to take a screenshot or take a photo with another camera. Snaps are deleted from our servers after they have been viewed by the recipient.”
In Snapchat’s defense (and noted by some media outlets), while they said the images were deleted from their server; they never claimed the images were deleted from the devices. But that didn’t stop the startup from getting attacked in the media. Nevermind the fact, that many are viewing this latest innovation as a huge step forward in how we connect over social media.
How To Save Face
When your startup’s been defaced, there are two factors that will make a huge impact on your inevitable outcome. Your ability to act fast and you’re eagerness to be honest and open. Billion dollar companies, such as Facebook and Google have been the center of bad press – yet they’re no worse for the wear and continue to dominate.
Why? Because they’re always ready to react.
In HMV’s case, they reacted quickly, as did brands like Burger King and Jeep when their social accounts were hacked earlier this year. And they did so through the very channel that nearly damned them – Twitter. With the proper use of hashtags, retweets, and excellent use of 140 characters – your public address can reach the masses far quicker than the time it would take to contact the press.
Next, be honest. Be “super” open. Those who are willing to address their flaws and speak openly, are more often viewed as innocent than guilty. Even if you are at fault. When Business Insider first published their article on Snapchat, they quickly received a statement from Snapchat addressing the concerns, which they then published. Seek out those who’ve talked badly and offer your side, explanation, or apology, if necessary. Transparency is key. Always stick to the story; don’t back peddle.
Lastly, always have a crisis management plan in place; no matter how small your startup. Know what actions to take, who to address, and when to call a lawyer. Don’t have a lawyer or crisis management pro? Check with your investors. They likely have existing relationships they can recommend. Ensure that you have one designated founder or team member, in charge of making public comments and addressing any attention – good or bad.
Most importantly. Never underestimate the power of ownership. We’re all going to make mistakes. It’s those who can take credit for their mistakes, that rise above it.
Has your startup been defaced? How did you react? What course of action did you take?