Brand Crisis Comms: This Is How You Do It Right

brand crisis communicationsCrowdfunding giant Kickstarter hit a rough patch lately with some project misses (and some all-out fails), but one thing they’ve done right? Crisis communications, a notoriously complicated area for brands and businesses—and one that can, in many instances, determine overall brand image and sometimes even the ultimate success of a company.

When dealing with crisis communications, it’s all too easy to find examples of companies who are doing it wrong. And that’s why it’s even more important to share stories of companies who do things right. If you’re paying attention, you can likely learn some valuable lessons to later apply to your own crisis communications plan—and Kickstarter’s recent experience is no exception.

Kickstarter’s Crisis: The Backstory

No brand or company hopes for a crisis. Yet, inevitably, they happen. Last week, Kobe Red, a project to raise money for “100% Japanese Beer Fed Kobe Beef Jerky,” was identified as a scam just minutes before the project founders were poised to collect over $120,000 (original funding goal? $2,374).

More recently, content for a so-called seduction guide, which the author hoped to publish via Kickstarter, emerged on Reddit—and as these things are wont to do, quotes of the “disturbing material” quickly made their way around the Interwebz.

Despite the material’s offensive nature, Kickstarter initially opted to not cancel the project. And, as a result, the project creator received funding (a lot of it, by the way – more than $16,000 on an original $2,000 goal).

That decision sparked an online firestorm. And in response, the Kickstarter team apologized to the online community. They shared their reasoning in a simply yet poignantly titled post: “We Were Wrong.” Here’s a brief excerpt:

Why didn’t we cancel the project when this material was brought to our attention? Two things influenced our decision:

  • The decision had to be made immediately. We had only two hours from when we found out about the material to when the project was ending. We’ve never acted to remove a project that quickly.
  • Our processes, and everyday thinking, bias heavily toward creators. This is deeply ingrained. We feel a duty to our community — and our creators especially — to approach these investigations methodically as there is no margin for error in canceling a project. This thinking made us miss the forest for the trees.
  • These factors don’t excuse our decision but we hope they add clarity to how we arrived at it.

What You Can Learn From Kickstarter

The Internet has made our world so much more visible and accessible—and, when something bad happens, vilifying. And that’s why we give massive propos to Kickstarter for owning up to their mistakes and offering transparency in showing why they made the decision they did—and what, as a result, will change. In the case of the “seduction guide,” Kickstarter has banned projects that fall under the same category so that, ideally, the same situation won’t happen again.

The value in all this is that there are some valuable lessons to be learned from this debacle. The first, and most important–have a crisis communications plan! It’s not clear how much crisis pre-planning the Kickstarter team had in place. But the more you plan for something bad to happen (and it will, you can count on that), the more prepared you’ll be. And being prepared is super critical in a crisis, when every minute counts.

Another valuable lesson? Own up to your mistakes and apologize. Just do it. In a crisis situation, the gut reaction is often to slink away and hide or simply ignore customer feedback—or, even worse, get in an argument with a customer or fan. Yet in today’s digital day and age, this sort of response isn’t only unreasonable—it’s downright dangerous. Ignoring your audience and hoping the situation will die out on its own is pretty naïve. Instead, it’s best to get out in front of the problem and be frank and honest about what’s happening and, more importantly, what’s being done to fix it.

Let’s face it—we’re all human. And your customers and fans are going to be much more likely to forgive and forget if you deal with them as a person, not like a cold-hearted corporation. An apology goes a long way, especially if it’s sincere and thoughtful. After all, when something goes wrong, don’t we all want to be told, “We’re sorry this happened. And here’s how we’re going to help make sure it doesn’t happen again.” We collectively tend to have a lot more trust and confidence in brands who approach crises from that perspective, rather than the head-in-the-sand approach that does nothing to rebuild credibility and reestablish trust and really just impart a sense that you, as a brand, really give a damn. That’s really what people want, don’t you think—just to feel like brands care? I think that humanization and empathy is a big deal.

There’s my take—what’s yours? Do you think Kickstarter handled the situation well? Or do you think another course of action would have been more effective? I’d love for you to weigh in.

Image: °Florian via Compfight cc