“Guilt-Proofing” Your Brand — Modern protection from Slander, Hoax & Smear Campaigns - Part Three.

In this final post of our three-part series on guilt-proofing your brand, I will cover some actionable tactics you can take from both the marketing and social perspectives. However, be forewarned that this is not a step-by-step cheat sheet. Each conflict is unique. Take this outline and modify it based on the severity and complexity of your situation.

  • Don't be that guy: One of the best things at you can do is simply not get yourself involved in potentially volatile situations that can turn into an attack on your brand or business. If you play nice, than more often than not your industry will play nice with you. That being said, those who do not make waves are often unnoticed. So take that with a grain of salt. This does not however protect you from a situation such as "guilt by association."  When an automobile manufacturer issues a recall, the rest of the industry is taking note and making sure they don't have the same issues. So that leads us to our next point.
  • Listen well, my friends: Monitor all your competitors using one or many of the fantastic tools available online. Some such as TalkWalker and SocialMention create alerts for free, while paid options such as BrandWatch provide robust options. Here's a list of things you should be monitoring:
    • Domain name
    • Company name
    • Company telephone number
    • Names of your executive team
    • The names of products or services that are exclusive to your company
    • Patents, trademarks and exclusive rights
    • With 10,000 foot industry terms such as "automotive" or "real estate," try to associate other descriptors to give more refined granularity. For example: "green automotive" or "real estate in Denver"
    • Secondary brands or alternative communities – for instance if you have a community forum area that provides support for your company, monitor key influencers and terms related to your product and discussion
    • After any primary product launch, you should inject a flurry of new key terms that surround your campaign and any topic or term that could be presumed as problematic, or that might require initial support
    • If a crisis occurs, aggressively monitor the pain points of the issue, any defined influencers that are heading the charge against you, and any and all industry news that may be a byproduct of the situation
  • Allow for organic resolution: See how your audience responds to a situation. You may find that they remedy the situation or weed out controversy on their own based upon their loyalty and trust in your product or service.
  • Take it outside: Still one of the best and most essential tactics is to "get them off the grid." This means taking conversations from public forums to a corralled location where you can begin to make sense of it and prevent it from becoming more viral in uncontrollable channels. This can range from creating a microsite to pursuing one-to-one communication with individuals through e-mail or (GASP) even on the phone. What whaa?
  • Don't fan the flames: With the hopes that you have a crisis situation off-line and within a community or group, you must actively participate by giving them progressive information as to how you are tackling the issue. This can be done with any and all content at your disposal. It is important, however, to make sure that what you say is well thought out and legally vetted. Reacting quickly to volatile communities can lead to misinterpretation, and might reignite a situation that previously was under control.
  • The clock is ticking: React in a timely manner, but do not jump to conclusions. Knee-jerk reactions are often perceived as an admittance of guilt. This is one of the many things KFC did correctly in this situation. They did not immediately begin to fire individuals based on the claims of one party. Instead they took the victim's information very seriously and researched it down to the molecular level.
  • Timing is everything: Not every situation is mission-critical and requires an immediate response. It's OK to step back, wait a few beats, and determine whether or not you need to react at all.
  • Do what you say and say what you do: Make an internal mandate as to how long you will wait between engagements with your audience after you them them you will "research and report on the situation." Once you tell your audience what to expect, be consistent with your feedback loop so they can better trust your claims.
  • Who has your back? Have a reliable public relations firm at your disposal.
  • The A-Team: Possibly most importantly, you need to construct a "damage squad" team of trusted influencers that can come to your rescue should a situation occur. It is advisable that these individuals do not appear to be on your staff or in any way directly associated to you via a brand ambassadorship or paid relationship. They should by all accounts be seen as members of the community that can be trusted and have defined following independent of your messaging.
  • Aces and eights: Last but certainly not least is transparency. Never get caught in a lie, because it will only add an amazing amount of fuel to the fire. Nevertheless, you do not have to give away all the information related to the situation. Simply answer the questions in a timely fashion and resolve comments and opinions on a case-by-case basis.  Don't show them your hand, and don't bet the whole farm.

I hope this series on guilt-proofing your brand has been helpful, and that you never have to be in a position where you use it. Nevertheless, make sure you have a plan in place so you can pull from if a situation becomes explosive.