The startup world is no stranger to scandal.
Silicon Valley is riddled with the remains of startups and companies forced to close their doors after falling prey to scandal. This year a series of well-known companies have landed in hot water for everything ranging from sexual harassment allegations to discrimination claims.
So, why does this keep happening in tech? The answer is fairly simple: Fast-growing businesses are more likely to prioritize product over crisis communication plans since the former provides immediate returns. It’s kinda hard to showcase the benefits of a communication crisis plan when there’s no crisis on hand.
Fortunately, there are some easy things startups can do to get ahead of any potential problems. Here are three easy steps early-stage companies can follow courtesy of Erin Richards, a former public relations officer for CBC and founder of communications firm Hype PR.
For startups on a shoestring budget, time is a valuable resource that’s always in short supply. It’s easy to see why some would rather spend time networking instead of creating an in-depth framework for future issues that, technically, may never arrive.
As much as it might make sense to avoid all things PR related Richards believes it’s a bad idea. To combat any possible negative publicity entrepreneurs should invest in creating a strong brand before missteps occur in order to develop a trove of goodwill that can be leveraged to diffuse bad situations and grow the business.
“Most people don’t understand that public perception is a huge part of a brand narrative and story, and if those elements aren’t figured out, the media relations strategy is likely to fall flat.”
Creating long-lasting buzz isn’t an easy task, but entrepreneurs hoping to generate a positive public perception must focus their efforts on giving back to their community on a regular basis. This includes having team members volunteer to speak at conferences or community events to build good will. Local nonprofits and community organizations are always looking for guests to help teach and knowledgable experts are always in demand
Keeping tabs on how your brand grows and changes over time isn’t easy. It requires a lot of hard work, tons of follow-up and a keen eye that can easily differentiate between spam and important data, which is likely why most companies hire outside firms to perform this task.
Finding problems before they mushroom into bigger ones is an effective way to manage communication tragedies.
Companies need to be proactive and constantly be diligent. If they can’t afford to hire an outside team to monitor their brand they should make sure an individual is tasked with doing basic searches all the time. Simply enlist someone on their team to monitor social media and online channels for news.
“They should have someone on the team allocated to the role of social and traditional media monitoring to ensure they are on top of any potential brand related issues that may arise,” Richards adds. “They could also look into having an independent consultant develop a PR plan and strategy that they could attempt to execute internally.”
Here are a few social media companies that startups can use to help find out if they’re being discussed online:
Twitter: Companies can use Twitter’s advanced search buttons to look for specific sentences, names and dates.
Facebook: It can be a little trickier for startups to find mentions of their brand on Facebook since many users take advantage of the social media company’s privacy settings.
Google: Getting alerts about when and if your company is mentioned online can be as simple as setting up a Google account. This platform doesn’t include social media platforms but does extend to blogs, news and websites.
For good or bad, founders are the de facto representative for their company. A startup can rise and fall based on the actions of a founding team member or staff. Teaching startup teams how to interact with customers online is vital, even when their “off the clock” or on their down time.
They need to remain professional at all times since now-a-days one embarrassing moment is merely a screengrab or email forward away from becoming PR nightmare.
“Once you become an entrepreneur, you become synonymous with your brand. Entrepreneurs should seek out mentors in the industry to help them network, grow and evolve and also look into how public figures they admire conduct themselves in public and in the media. Of course, there are also the obvious ones such as, watching the alcohol intake at professional events and avoiding weighing in publicly on potentially contentious issues.”