Posted by David Oates 2 weeks, 5 days ago

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I took a call yesterday from a company referred to me on a sensitive matter. For the past three weeks, the business found itself under attack by a distributor who launched a social media smear campaign purporting the unsafe state of the company’s consumer-oriented products. The posts led readers to believe a recall effort would occur in the not-too-distant future.

The company’s owners told me about the little sleep they get dealing with the emails from customers, partners and distribution partners that now question their ability to continue doing business. They called asking for answers and hope to resolve the matter quickly.

For them, though, the problem won’t go away anytime soon. I estimated they’d spend at least five figures dealing with the negative backlash for at least the next three months. That’s because they waited nearly three weeks before reacting. Except for one Facebook post, the company preferred not to say anything.

It’s understandable to a point. The fear of stoking the fires and exacerbating the problem is a natural concern, but this scenario illustrates a critical point. Companies that fail to respond correctly only allow the opposition to get their point of view told unabated. They get a head start in the blogosphere and search engine rankings. As they do, the costs to counter their claims must encompass more paid and well as organic efforts. That means the price goes up.

If this company sought out expert advice from the start, the cost would most likely be half of what I quoted. What’s more, the price tag will only continue to go up as they debate if they should move forward; becoming a sort of death spiral so to speak.

I would wish the story could just “go away,” but in today’s 24/365 digital information world, that can’t happen. Let this be a lesson for other marketers. Whether you go it alone or with the help of an expert crisis communications expert, the fact remains that responding proactively to public claims, while not pleasant, is the lesser of two evils. Be sure to do so with candor, clarity and sincerity. Show empathy and action for the circumstance and be forthright in articulating your actions. Most importantly, do these things sooner rather than later.

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