While you can’t stop negative social posts unless they are factually untrue and harmful to your business, you can take steps to avoid that happening in the first place. Or at least minimize the damage. One way to do that is to have a crisis communications plan in place before a crisis ever happens.
This is critical in several ways. But before you delve into creating a communications crisis plan, ask yourself if you have the staff or the expertise to create a crisis communications plan from start to finish. The answer would most likely be no, because many contractors don’t think a crisis will ever happen to them and they do not have the ability to maintain a PR professional on staff.
This where an experienced contractor public relations team comes into play. Rather than muddle around with a one-person PR agency, hire one that can get the job done faster, more efficiently, and with your specific needs in mind. All PR agencies are not alike and finding one that understand your business, the industry challenges and how to push your story to the right people in-the-know within the industry is key to maintaining your good reputation.
Spot a Crisis Before it Happens
Most contractors either don’t, choose to hope the crisis will never actually come to light or ignore the signals. This is the worst thing to do. Never ignore a crisis in the beginning stages. Get on it immediately and find out what the potential crisis is all about. Do some digging and be aware of the nuances in what your customers are saying on social media and other platforms.
Monitor what is being said on social and whether your building or community members are participating in the Nextdoor app. For instance, if you were the general contractor on a recently opened residential community, and people start complaining about shifting earth causing cracks in their garages in social media posts or comments, you would want to know about that and address it before it become a news story in the local paper or TV news station.
Things can very quickly go from a minor issue to a major one in a split second, so keeping tabs on social media is a must these days, it’s not a luxury. Set up Google alerts for your company name, research comments and posts that use your business name in the posts (you can do a search in Facebook for posts that mention a name or hashtag to keep track of what people are saying). You could hire an expert contractor PR agency to do the work for you using their experienced team, which could be more cost-effective than hiring a staffer to it full-time.
Be a fly on the wall, and listen carefully to customers and vendors to stay ahead of the curve and address potential crises before they happen
As we mentioned, ignoring a crisis isn’t doing you any favors, nor is hoping it will blow over. Most times it does not. So, rather than just wait and hope a crisis goes away, meet it head on with the urgency it warrants. If you see that a Facebook group has started up just to talk about a building or neighborhood’s construction issues, it’s time to step in. Offer to come and talk with the group at their next meeting, or set up a town hall meeting where everyone can speak for a few minutes.
Because your reputation, and even your very livelihood, rests on your contractor business’ good name, you can’t ignore bad attention. It must be dealt with immediately. With a crisis communications plan in place, you can do a lot of damage control by being proactive rather than reactive. A plan puts you in charge of messaging rather than the media or customers, and that is where you want to be.
Crisis plans map out what steps need to be taken at every step in the crisis journey, giving you peace of mind that you have items like press releases or advisory templates already created and social media posts that are ready to go with minimal changes. Having a website strategy is also an important aspect of the plan. Creating banners and crisis pages that can be adapted to any crisis in very little time are another example of a proactive plan.
Response is Crucial
As noted above, responding urgently is the best policy. No one ever wished that they had responded to a crisis more slowly. There are plenty of examples of poor crisis planning because they end up in the news, but good crisis planning runs smoothly in the background and never attracts negative stories.
An effective crisis plan considers several possibilities, and starts with a team phone list or an employee tree that specifies a role for each team member, so when a crisis hits, everyone knows their area of responsibility. This needs to be updated as team members change.
Once roles are assigned, develop collateral that addresses the crisis in a calm, strategic manner, instilling customer confidence. But, do not sugar-coat the crisis at hand. Be truthful and transparent as possible, because people will be researching on their own and if they find something you did not address, it could mean trouble. Having all the material you will need crafted in advance will make your whole team look like they are sharp and on top of everything.
An important step that many contractor businesses fall behind on is making sure the message was received and covered as planned. This important step is like a follow up to make sure the story was received as desired and that if there are any questions from media or owners or renters in your buildings—you are letting them know you are listening. It is also a good time to do a post-mortem on the crisis plan to see what worked and what didn’t. This also gives you or your agency time to make improvements before the next crisis occurs.
Heather Ripley is founder and CEO of Ripley PR, an elite, global public relations agency specializing in construction and skilled trades. Ripley PR has been recognized by Entrepreneur Magazine as a Top Franchise PR agency three years in a row and was named to Forbes’ America's Best PR Agencies for 2021. She is the author of “NEXT LEVEL NOW: PR Secrets to Drive Explosive Growth for your Home Service Business.” For additional information, visit www.ripleypr.com.