Is your legal firm ready to handle bad headlines, such as, “AXZ Firm Partner Steals Billions from Client for Gambling,” or “XYZ Covers up Deadly Drug Side Effect”.
Think of a recent legal PR crisis, like what happened when the cost of one EpiPen rose to $600. Mylan CEO Heather Bresch was asked to appear before the Congress’ House Oversight Committee to explain their prices.
Mylan’s PR and social media crisis management team was silent when Hilary Clinton, Sarah Jessica Parker, and other well-known people critiqued their price hike. They later released a generic EpiPen, but this late and half-baked response to the issue didn’t stop consumer groups from complaining.
How well you prepare and respond to a PR nightmare is crucial, especially in the first few minutes as the crisis develops. What you do in that crucial time can make or break your online reputation.
Easy to Follow Social Media Crisis Management Tips
Avoid No Comment
Staying quiet on social media or citing client confidentiality, can leave journalists and the general public even more suspicious about a company’s motivation.
Yes, as a law firm, you are required to protect your client’s privacy. But that won’t stop your stakeholders, customers, and the media, to think that you’re hiding something. Not saying something can make a one day headline drag on for weeks, or months.
The longer you wait before acknowledging the situation, the harder it is to recover and control the people’s perception of what happened. That’s why you should learn the art of commenting without commenting, if you really can’t say anything because you have no information—or whatever reason.
Below are two example statements that allow you to comment, while downplaying possible accusations of a cover up. These statements aren’t just for lawyers; your social media crisis management team can also modify this statement for online release.
“We understand that your job is to find the truth, and that the public has the right to know what happened. But please also understand that, as legal counsel, we must protect the information of our clients and avoid making speculations until we clarify the situation.”
The statement below is useful if you already have a basic understanding of what happened.
“We can’t betray the confidentiality of our clients. But we do understand that the public needs to be made aware of the situation. What I can share are some of our initial findings….”
“We understand a complaint was raised against one of our partners. We are investigating the incident and are cooperating with the authorities”
Customize these statements to fit your needs. Of course, this won’t be the last you say to the press. You have to set the expectation of when you can release an official statement, or more information as the crisis unfolds.
Get the Facts
Now that you’ve hopefully held the press at bay, you can focus on finding the facts. It sounds obvious, but it’s not always done right. If it was, we won’t see hilarious headlines of companies, celebrities, and politicians retracting former statements (or caught lying) about certain issues they’re facing.
As a company’s legal counsel, you know it’s part of your firm’s job to talk to the people involved, visit the place of the incident, check the videos (if any), and get all the information you can.
Take time to understand what happened, who were involved, and why it happened, before you help your client—or their social media crisis management team—issue a statement.
The public’s impression of what happened may not coincide with reality, so it’s important that you get to the bottom of the issue before these wrong impressions take hold.
Issue a Simple Statement
After you’ve gathered the facts, create a concise statement that answers the who, where, what, why, and how, of the situation. If the situation is still ongoing, mention when you expect a resolution or an update on the issue. Publish this statement in all of their social media accounts and websites.
Your statement doesn’t have to commit to anything, especially if the situation is still fluid. For instance, if one of your clients is involved in an ethics case, you can add a disclaimer like, “the statement may change as we uncover new information.”
Mars previously announced the recall of different chocolate bars in 55 countries, after a customer complained about a piece of red plastic in a Snickers bar. The company traced the plastic back from a factory in Veghel, Netherlands, where it was used as part of the chocolate-making process.
In a statement, a spokesperson from Mars said, “As far as we know there are 55 countries involved. We are investigating exactly what’s happened, but we cannot be sure that this red piece of plastic isn’t in any other of our products from the same production line.”
The quote above is an example of a simple statement a company can issue after a product recall, which is a major crisis for any brand. As a result of this incident, Mars decided on a voluntary recall of the possibly affected products.
Mars’ decision to quickly issue statement and product recall saved them from long term sales lost. Their social media crisis management team was also quick to cascade this information on Twitter, as some consumers couldn’t access their site.
Voluntary Limited Recall, Select Mars Netherlands Chocolate Products. See link for more information: https://t.co/CfhfjsvJGV
— Mars, Incorporated (@MarsGlobal) February 23, 2016
Apologize if Necessary
Remember when United Airlines CEO didn’t apologize for the dragging and beating of a passenger in one of their overbooked flights? Their stocks plummeted, and they became the poster child for how not to treat airplane passengers.
Here’s the non-apology apology United Airlines CEO issued after the video of Dr. Dao’s dragging went viral:
United CEO response to United Express Flight 3411. pic.twitter.com/rF5gNIvVd0
— United (@united) April 10, 2017
Both the media and general public were quick to criticize United’s apology, saying the statement wasn’t a proper apology because it didn’t acknowledge the passenger getting hurt. If United had a social media crisis management team, didn’t they realize this statement will only make things worse?
After the backlash they faced, CEO Oscar Munoz was forced to issue another apology to appease the media and previous customers saying they will never fly with United again. They apologized, but by then it was too late. It didn’t sound sincere anymore because people felt they were pressured into it.
This is why it’s important to issue an apology as early as possible, when the situation calls for it. In United’s case, even if the dragging is supposedly not their fault, it still happened on their plane. That’s why many felt they were responsible for it.
The apology statement you issue shouldn’t pass the blame to others. It’s better to admit that the facts aren’t clear yet, but your client is saddened (or whatever appropriate emotion) by the event.
Unless you’re trained to appear in the media, it’s easy to fall into the temptation of rambling or freestyling. Whether you’re doing it to fill the silence or you forgot parts of your statement, going off the script can be costly when a crisis demands you to be succinct and careful of your words.
If you find the silence awkward, get comfortable with it. You don’t have to worry about awkward silences in most cases, because reporters will use this to ask you a question.
Stick to your main points and know when to stop. Not adhering to your prepared statement makes you prone to a bad soundbite, which are quotes taken out of context from an interview. That’s the reason why political candidates keep going back to their campaign’s key messages during a debate.
Leverage the Media Properly
The press and general public, especially active social media users aren’t your enemy. If you know how to work with them, they can help get your side heard during a PR crisis.