The Internet is a fantastic tool for businesses looking to disperse their message to a widespread, but highly targeted audience. Unfortunately, the Internet is also a good tool for disgruntled customers to air their grievances. Any mistakes you make, any off-hand comments made by your executive team, and any rude statements made by stressed out support staff could be archived, shared, and transmitted around the globe in seconds.

This article was provided by Crispin Jones for Insignia Communications – experts in crisis management team building and desktop exerices.

That’s why crisis communications skills are so important. A few years ago, a disgruntled customer’s rant that they will “tell everyone they meet” about how bad your customer service is was nothing to fear. Today, the average person has 130 Facebook friends, along with a sizable posse of Twitter followers, and a ready-made audience on special interest forums too.

Do you know how many people are talking about your brand online? Are you actively monitoring your brand terms and influential employee’s names in both the search engines and the Google results? Do you have a plan – do you know what you are going to? Has your plan lay dormant in a draw for months on end – maybe even years without being checked or audited?

Are you prepared – have you looked at crisis management training? Do you know how you should react with the media and what you should really be saying?

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Using Crisis Management Training to Turn Bad PR to Good

If social networking is such a powerful tool for spreading rants, then it’s logical to think that good news could be spread in the same way, and that’s what many tech-savvy companies are doing. In fact, some companies are using any contact they have with their customers as an excuse to nudge them towards spreading the “good news”.

Next time you see someone complaining about your company on Twitter, use the ‘@’ option to reach out to them and ask if you can help them. If someone places a support call, take their email address, and send them an email afterwards asking them if their problem was resolved satisfactorily. You can include a link to your Facebook page in the email, and ask them to ‘Like’ your page.

Making full use of modern social communication tools may require some crisis management training for your support and PR teams. In particular, it’s important to educate people on the permanence of the Internet. Messages typed in anger can’t just be deleted when you calm down. It’s easy to feel pressured into giving an instant response to any complaints or questions that come your way, but sometimes waiting is a better option.

Effective crisis communications isn’t about giving a fast response; it’s about giving a helpful and accurate response. Your customer relations team should never, ever get into an argument with a customer, and they should never make commitments that might be broken. If there’s any doubt as to what to say, it’s best to either say nothing at all, or to tell the customer that the complaint has been noted, and will be looked into.

When Things Go Wrong

Even the best company makes mistakes from time to time, and PR disasters can come from the strangest of angles. If you get caught saying something you shouldn’t, or a photograph of you appears in a trade magazine using a competitor’s product rather than your own, don’t panic. Try to think of a way to turn the situation to your advantage. Crisis management training can’t prepare you for every eventuality, but most situations can be turned around if you stay calm, and employ a sense of humour.

Question: What tools do you know of that can be used to monitor your reputation online?