We live in an increasingly transparent world. There's almost nothing that is private anymore--even if you wish it were. A recent security flaw in Facetime let callers see video of the person they were calling--before they picked up. And if one of your employees has a bad experience or sees something they disapprove of, they may well share that information with the public.
All this transparency can be terrifying to an entrepreneur. What if something goes wrong with your product or your company?
There's real value in transparency in business--but there's also real value in managing the messages around that transparency. The challenge is for the executives in a company to be aware of all the issues that might need public messaging and transparency, versus being beat to the punch by someone whistleblowing or leaking the information. It's always better to be able to be proactive, instead of reactive and running the risk of sounding defensive.
I've found that the best practice is to share openly. If you don't, chances are good that someone else will. When something goes wrong, I think it's always best to do your own sharing, no matter how uncomfortable it is.
The best practices that I've followed over the years, almost all learned the hard way, include:
Never assume that "no one will notice."
It's rare that someone else doesn't know about an incident or an issue. Don't operate with your head in the sand, hoping that no one will notice. Even if you are doing the right things in response, and everything is being managed as it should be, someone will notice.
Know what's going on.
In order for you to know what others might notice, it's really important to know what's going on in your company.
Be sure to keep an open door policy, where anyone can come to you with anything, so that if problems arise, you can work together on the best way to solve them. A corollary to this is that if you know what it is going on and overlay that with what you know about your business strategically, then you may identify an issue as it arises, rather than after. This is much better.
Be proactive on social media.
Social media is unpredictable. While a social media feeding frenzy may last only 24 to 48 hours, the damage done in that short time period can be disastrous. It's best to control your messaging, and both proactively engage and objectively message through the situation.
Consider having an agency on retainer for crises big and small. In an emotionally charged time, it is awesome to have an objective third party helping manage and message with and for you. Plan when to disclose, what to disclose, and how to disclose information so that you are staying ahead of the 'haters gonna hate' crowd.
Also, use a root cause analysis (RCA) process to get to the bottom of what caused the issue, and form a cross functional task force to manage the outcomes.
Be open, honest, and humble.
Know that you can't control everything that is said--you can only openly and honestly share information. Develop two to three messages to use as your responses, and make sure that everyone knows and understands them. Be open, honest, and humble when sharing information, and validate other people and their experiences.
Don't let the crisis consume or define your business.
A large crisis can bring a business down. But careful and thoughtful management of a crisis can also unite you with loyal users and followers, allow you to shape thought leadership in the market, win friends and supporters through your approach, and allow you to think of creative and innovative solutions.
Turn lemons into lemonade.
When the crisis is over, learn from it. Debrief and make changes as a result of the crisis.
No matter what, a crisis isn't what anyone wants to deal with. Taking a deep breath, staying calm and real, and being open and honest with the world is a winning strategy.
Act with integrity.
Most of all, be proud of what you do. If you are doing something that doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. Avoid the crisis in the first place by correcting the offending action.