Whoever said, "there is no such thing as bad press" was lying.

The Institute for Crisis Management tracked a total of 212,115 crisis stories in the news in 2015. Yet, only half of organizations have a crisis plan in place. For entrepreneurs, who are natural risk-takers - I would bet that number is even fewer.

A complaint on social media that goes viral can halt a company's momentum, giving the competition the edge.

So how do you prepare for potential communication crises? Learn from the big brands like Chipotle, General Motors and Delta Airlines:

Is Too Late Now to Say Sorry?

This famous lyric from Justin Bieber also holds true when dealing with an online crisis.

Apologizing too quickly can make your company look weak and not apologizing at all can make you look guilty.

A video apology is an excellent way to handle negative conversations.

Jay Baer, CEO of Convince and Convert, recommends companies must be able to produce a video in less than 4 hours to respond to a social media crisis, day or night, or they are not fully prepared.

A few other best practices when apologizing include:

· Don't use a caveat when you apologize "like we are sorry, but..." Just say sorry for the inconvenience and don't use excuses.

· Acknowledge the human impact. When a crisis unfolds, it is tempting to stay silent until you know all the facts. Provide whatever update you can to validate your stakeholders' concerns.

· To avoid seeming like you are dodging an issue, state a specific time where people can check back for an update.

· Pick the right spokesperson. Hint: It isn't always the CEO. Think about how your main audience will respond to a spokesperson.

Delta Airlines, Inc. suffered power outage that caused more than 1,000 cancelations and delays.

At first, desk agents insisted that delays were standard and everything would be fine.

It wasn't until the entire system failed that CEO, Ed Bastain released a video statement on the airline's news hub that the reality of the situation was revealed.

When customers get conflicting information whatever attempt you make at saying sorry seems insincere and staged, especially when they have to pay for your mistake.

Respond on the Right Channel

Most companies think of a crisis as an unpredictable event that happens seemingly out of no where. In reality, most crises are predictable and preventable.

Take Chipotle's latest E. coli outbreak, centering on fresh produce. The brand made its way into consumer's hearts and stomachs with its famous fresh-fast-food concept.

The company had a lot of brand equity to protect, so they kept a few E. coli outbreaks under wraps by initially responding directly to consumers using social media and email responses to address the crisis.

As the story grew bigger - Chipotle's response didn't change and there in lies the problem.

What can you learn from Chipotle's recent crisis? Two things.

Plan for obvious issues. Why didn't someone in the company know that using organic produce had a higher risk for contamination and plan for it?

Secondly, you must meet your angry customers where they are at the right place, right time and, most importantly, the right media channel.

As the crisis grew, national media began to pick up the story and after a few days the CEO showed up on the Today Show. It was too little, too late.

Learn from Chipotle and avoid unnecessary heartburn by understanding social media isn't the only tool in the communication toolbox as a crisis is looming.

Repercussions of Robo-responses

While every type of social media crisis has its own shelf-life, to avoid long-term damage to your company's reputation, brands should aim to respond in 90 minutes or less, after complaint or negative comment is posted.

While many organizations seem to be responding faster, it's how they are responding that's the problem.

Many companies use auto-reply methods to respond on social media after a customer service incident occurs and it almost always backfire.

Vauxhall, a UK based car manufacturer, recalled 240,000 Zafira B. cars after the car was found to catch on fire if the ventilation system was put on a certain setting.

How did GM respond? The robo-responder asked social commenters to "keep their heat between zero and four" and wait to receive a recall letter to get their car repair.

That seems like a strange response if you are worrying about your car bursting into flames. The response has to match the severity of the crisis.

What can you take away from GM's poor attempt to extinguish a crisis?

Make sure your social media folks understand what the underlying issues are and use tailored responses that sound like they are from actual human being.

The Keyboard Shield

The old adage the customer is always right, is totally wrong on social media.

Studies have shown are more likely to have a Dr. Jykle and Mr. Hyde personality when they are posting online.

Instead of taking the fight online with unreasonable customers, create an email or channel for people to vent their vitriol. This way, you can respond without the world watching.

Published on: Aug 19, 2016
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.