How to Respond to Negative Publicity

Want to just get going? Click here to sign up for WebiMax and start managing your negative publicity today. 

Negative publicity can be shared with a single click, and bad press can sink your business reputation in less time than it takes to finish the New York Times crossword puzzle.

No business is immune from negative publicity, either. Whether it’s a bad customer review or a full-blown product or service crisis, the threat is always there.

So how do you respond when bad press comes knocking at your door? By being prepared.

The Top Online Reputation Management Companies to Help You Respond To Negative Publicity

If your business is the victim of bad publicity, you don’t have to manage the situation on your own. There are a number of great online reputation management services available to help you weather the storm.

Here are some of the best:

Read our full reviews of each online reputation management company.

Six Steps to Respond to Negative Publicity

It’s never easy to deal with negative information about your business, but it is something that must be done—and done well. Mismanaging things will usually make the situation worse.

Here are the steps to position your business for success.

  1. Identify negative publicity quickly
  2. Correct any false information
  3. Act before the problem escalates
  4. Own up to your mistakes
  5. Explain how you will fix the problem
  6. Share positive information about your company

The Easy Part of Responding to Negative Publicity

Knowing right away when your company faces bad press is very important. Luckily, this is also one of the easiest things you can do.

Start by setting up Google Alerts for your company name, products, and services. It’s simple to do, and you’ll get an email notification anytime your company is mentioned online. Armed with this information, you can quickly take steps to mitigate the damage from the negative publicity. 

Of course, the scope of the negative publicity will dictate your next step. A single negative customer review requires a different response than, say, a full-blown product malfunction.  

Managing negative reviews is a key part of managing your online reputation. Addressing the negative reviews quickly and professionally helps neutralize the sting and shows your company is responsive to customer complaints.

But when your negative publicity is bigger than a bad review or two, your response will require more consideration. As a general rule, the bigger the issue, the more complex and comprehensive your response must be.

Either way, it all begins by knowing when your business is mentioned in a negative light—and that’s not difficult to set up.

The Difficult Parts of Responding to Negative Publicity

Once you know about the negative publicity, you’ll have to act quickly to address it. Unless it is a straightforward negative online review, fixing the negative press is much harder to do than merely learning about it.

To achieve any kind of success, you’ll need a cohesive plan for moving forward. You’ll also need to craft a solution to whatever underlying problem caused the bad press. 

Then, you need to keep people—your customers, the press, the general public—aware of what you’re doing to resolve the issue. And finally, you’ll also want to start sharing positive news about your company to offset the negative publicity.

All of this is quite time-consuming and requires a certain level of expertise in public relations and crisis management. Most businesses don’t have that type of talent on their payroll.

If you don’t want to go it alone, there are many capable services available to help your company during its time of need. One of my favorites is WebiMax

They’ve been helping businesses effectively deal with bad press for years with proven results. They’ll monitor business mentions for you and jump-start the strategic response side of the equation, too.

WebiMax home page

WebiMax isn’t just about reputation repair. They also offer digital marketing and public relations services, which can help your business get the positive press you deserve. 

WebiMax offers a customized solution for every single client. No cut-and-paste approaches here.

Step 1: Identify Negative Publicity Quickly

One of the easiest ways to know when your business is getting negative mentions is to set up Google Alerts. You can create as many separate alerts as you need. A great place to start is with alerts for your business name, products, and services.

Google Alerts setup screen

Anytime something you have an alert set for is mentioned online—whether good or bad—you’ll get an email notification that includes a summary of the content and a link to the source. You can choose how often to get notified—as it happens, once per day, or once per week.

I recommend choosing the “as it happens” option, since that will give you the most immediate notification of any mentions.

Google Alerts are way more efficient than trying to scan online sources for business mentions every single day.

Step 2: Correct Any False Information

If the negative publicity is based on inaccurate information, you should immediately take steps to contact the entity that shared the false information. Provide them with facts that prove their information is false, along with a polite—yet firm—request to remove the incorrect information.

Sometimes this will clear up the situation quickly and business life can go back to normal. In which case, you can stop right here.

Unfortunately, not all negative publicity is rooted in false information. Sometimes what is being claimed is true (or mostly true). When this happens, you’ll need to do more than just ask for the incorrect information to be deleted. Read on to find out what to do next.

Step 3: Act Before the Problem Escalates

Once you know about the negative publicity and confirm it is truthful, it’s very important not to bury your head in the sand, hoping it will all go away. It won’t.

It’s equally important, though, not to start responding willy-nilly. A knee-jerk response without a cohesive and well-thought-out plan, especially when you’re dealing with the press, will only make things worse. 

You need to take the time to put together a comprehensive response plan that will both guide your business internally and assist when engaging with external sources. 

This plan should include:

  • Details of the negative publicity and the underlying causation, so everyone in your company knows the facts.
  • Official and approved messaging to address the negative publicity, so everyone knows what to say if asked.
  • A point person to manage all the incoming communications, so your employees know where to direct inquiries.
  • An explanation of how you plan to resolve the underlying issues that caused the negative publicity, so people know the steps you’re taking and the timeline for taking them.

Once you have this plan in place, you must also make sure all your employees, managers, and C-level executives understand and are on board with the plan. What you don’t want is someone speaking to the public in a way that contradicts the established plan.

And you have to put this plan together and implement it quickly, before the negative publicity spins further out of control. 

I won’t kid you. Designing and executing this kind of crisis response plan is hard. Really hard. There are a lot of moving parts to manage, everything needs to happen as quickly as possible, and any misstep will make things worse.  

So unless your company is in the business of public relations, I recommend not trying to do this crucial step yourself. Instead, enlist the help of experts like WebiMax to create and manage it for you.

Step 4: Own Up To Your Mistake

When negative publicity is true, you need to step up and take responsibility. Don’t make excuses and don’t be defensive.

Instead, be transparent, accountable, and humble in your response. Acknowledge the mistake, accept responsibility for it, and apologize. This is not the time to deny, waffle, or try to shift the blame.

Businesses that are open and honest about mistakes fare far better than those that refuse to own up to things they’ve done wrong. Recognizing and acknowledging your company’s responsibility is a key part of moving past the negativity.

Now, I freely admit that this can be difficult. It is natural to take negative feedback or reviews personally. It is difficult to sometimes view the problem from the customers’ perspective, especially if your first inclination is that the negative feedback is unfair and doesn’t reflect the entirety of your company’s customer service efforts.

Remember, however, that the customer may only deal with a small segment of your company, maybe only one or two people. Additionally, remember that this interaction may only last for a few minutes. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to make a customer frustrated enough to leave a negative review.

What you will find is that as you are able to view the situation from the customer’s perspective, you may find a way to improve your overall customer service performance. Blaming the customer or making excuses for what happened will not help to fix a situation like this.

On the flip side, it’s also important to not make wholesale changes to your customer service based on one or two negative reviews. Making a small tweak or two to ensure the mistake doesn’t happen again is usually the best solution, unless you are receiving the same type of negative feedback repeatedly.

Step 5: Explain How You Will Fix the Issue

Consider this the plan within the plan. While I covered the creation of an overall response plan in Step 2, now is the time to dig deeper and address how you’re going to resolve the underlying issue that caused the problem in the first place.

The plan details will depend on the severity of the problem. A bad experience with customer service is far different than a malfunctioning product that injured or killed someone. Your plan on how to fix the situation will change accordingly.

You need to explain how your company is resolving the problem, and you need full transparency with the details. Now is not the time for vague explanations or opaque processes. You must make it crystal clear how you’re going to right the wrong.

Then, as you begin to execute your reparation plan, you need to keep people regularly updated on your progress. 

This level of detail and transparency can be overwhelming to many businesses. I highly recommend you enlist the help of experienced professionals, like WebiMax, to help you through this process.

Step 6: Share Positive Information About Your Business

Negative publicity isn’t going to disappear overnight, even with a bulletproof plan to address it. The bad information online could linger online indefinitely.

Your best strategy to minimize the impact of this negative publicity that won’t go away is to bury it deep in search results—where nobody looks. How to best accomplish this is to publish a lot of positive new content about your company.

There are a few different ways you can do this.

Incorporate It Into Your Response Plan

As part of your ongoing communications with the public about how you’re working to fix things, you should also take the opportunity to weave in positive information about your company.

You can showcase new social initiatives your business supports, charities your company is involved with, and other feel-good news that will land positively with the public. This kind of information shouldn’t overshadow your core plan communications, of course. 

But these mentions demonstrate that your business isn’t solely defined by the problems it currently faces.

Share Positive Stories Separately

Another way is to issue positive news completely separate from your crisis response plan. Whether it is via press releases or blog posts, this is your opportunity to generate new, standalone content that showcases your company in a truly positive light.

Incorporating good Search Engine Optimization (SEO) keywords and phrases into the copy is also a helpful strategy here. That makes it easier for Google to find and promote your quality content over the negative piece(s) attacking your reputation.

As these positive articles are published and picked up higher in the Google search results, the negative information is pushed further and further down the search results page. Eventually, with enough positive content, you’ll find that any negative information about your business is buried pages deep—where people rarely look.

A full-service company, like WebiMax, can help put your business in the spotlight in a positive way. They’ll help you get media interviews, position you as an industry thought leader, and increase your brand recognition, all with proven online public relations strategies.

WebiMax public relations services page

Beyond great PR services, WebiMax is a complete reputation management and digital marketing agency, experienced in handling all aspects of building and maintaining a positive online presence for your business. 

Use Social Media To Promote Positive Content

Another way to highlight positive news about your business is to share it across your social media channels. 

Sharing links to your blog posts and creating original content on social channels reminds followers your business is more than just one bad incident. The more positive information you share, the sooner people will forget the negative past.

But managing social media is time-consuming and requires specialized knowledge to achieve maximum impact, which is where a service like WebiMax can help.

WebiMax social media services page

WebiMax helps businesses manage their social media presence for more than a decade. It knows what works and what doesn’t, thereby putting your business in the best light possible across relevant social media channels like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.