Dealing with the Chaos: Solving an Online Reputation Crisis

2018/09/19 08:00

reputation plan

Daily headlines are filled with companies dealing with a crisis. Is your company prepared?

Most companies are unprepared and do not have a crisis plan in place. They believe it will never happen to them. But, what if it does?

One of my clients came yesterday to the office asking how he can deal with an online reputation crisis he has been ignoring for the last week. In two words: too late!

In today’s digital age, news spread almost instantly. If crisis strikes…it’s already too late if you don’t have a strategy put into place. 

Usually, crises are the fault of your business, whether by accident, or oversight. The trick is to respond quickly and effectively. In this social media age, people expect responses right away.

If you ignore the issue for too long, it can become an even bigger problem. For example, Greenpeace started a big global crisis situation for Nestle. They have posted a video clip which shows an office worker opening a Kit Kat chocolate bar and biting into an orangutan finger instead of a Kit Kat. The video aimed to highlight how Nestlé buys palm oil from a producer that destroys the rainforest. By doing so they destroy the homes of the last orangutans in Indonesia.

Online reputation nestle

Nestlé responded to the video and claimed that it violated their copyright. As a result, Nestle has been bombarded with angry consumers on Twitter and Facebook.

Greenpeace supporters then changed their profile pictures to an anti-Nestlé logo. However, Nestlé deleted those negative comments with anti-Nestle logo and posted:


This statement angered online users even more. The negative situation has turned into a major social media crisis.

One of the consequences of social media is that a story can grow exponentially. And it can go from zero-to-crisis in a matter of hours. 

Nestle thought they could get YouTube to close down the video. They have ignored the situation, which made it even worse. It was like throwing gasoline into a fire. The story blew even bigger!

Anyone’s voice in social media can be heard. So, do not ignore negative comments. Bad news travels faster and further than good news.

Ignoring a negative comment hoping that it will go away is a poor strategy. It will send a message that your organization does not care when your customers have bad experiences.

What can we take from Nestlé’s crisis?

Nestlé’s fiasco is a perfect example of how companies should manage an online social media crisis.  If Nestle reacted differently to the situation it might not have become a crisis for them.

Lay the Groundwork for Prevention

A solid social media crisis plan is timeless. It is a great start to prepare for issues before they happen.

You should be able to respond promptly during an emergency in the hours and days that follow. 

As the old saying goes we should always “hope for the best, but plan for the worst.”

To show you how to start thinking about your company’s social media crisis plan, let’s use Domino’s example.

Setting the stage

Back in 2009, two Domino’s employees from a branch in North Carolina upload a film on YouTube, of themselves doing disgusting things to a sandwich before it went out on delivery. As a result, they quickly found themselves embroiled in a viral crisis situation. The offending video received nearly 1 million views before it was taken down.

Domino’s response

They responded to the crisis in 48 hours, after being notified about the crisis by their loyal fans. Even though Domino’s didn’t yet have a social media presence, they have set up a Twitter account. They have apologized to their clients. In addition, they’ve asked their Twitter followers to help them spread the word by retweeting the link. This measure tempered the storm until the release of their official public statement.

What did Domino do right?

First, they had a plan. Secondly, Dominos released a great official response to the crisis that:

  • Responded to the crisis on the same channel it broke out on
  • Optimized the video to be found alongside the offending video
  • Showed true sincerity and humanized the brand and the situation
  • Detailed the steps they were taking to correct the unfortunate situation
  • Outlined the steps that Domino took to deal with the issue to make sure it will never happen again
  • The company’s president apologized.

What did Domino do wrong?

Although they did take immediate actions to correct the situation they did it behind closed doors. They did not take the time to say: “we are aware of the situation. We are looking into it”

How do you turn a PR nightmare into positive press?

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A crisis can strike any company anytime, anywhere. And it can happen to you too.

But what can you do to avoid the reputational crisis?

We saw the perfect example of this when KFC went through an unusual crisis in the U.K. The fast-food giant, well-known for its fried chicken ran out of chicken. This shortage has forced hundreds of restaurants to close.

KFC has apologized using a creative stunt. It has published a funny reordering of the brand name’s lettering to spell out “FCK.”.

At the bottom of this advert, they said:

‘A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It’s not ideal.’

This was a great PR approach. The ad went social very quickly. Although the problems were caused by DHL, the delivery company, they have not blamed the supplier for the issues. Instead, they chose to take the high route and apologized to their customers.

The fact that KFC ran out of chicken is actually quite funny. While over time we will probably forget all about it, we won’t forget how they made the best out of a bad situation.

This is the perfect example of crisis management – and how to turn a negative situation into positive PR.

Can this crisis management system work for your company too? Probably not. Each company needs to put its own crisis management into place. But there are a few things we can learn from this crisis management.

Don’t panic! It isn’t the situation that will make or break your company. It is the way you respond to it. 

Take responsibility!

KFC did not try to cover things up. They were honest with their customers and it has paid off.


If your business did mess up, be humble enough to apologize.

Try to resolve the problem. It is your responsibility to own up and resolve the issue. Customers often post negative reviews of businesses that are trying to evade blame.

I always include the above steps in my client’s crisis plans. Even though they don’t cover everything, these should give you something to reflect on.