A few months ago, I was interviewed by the Redding Record Searchlight for a social media/online rep management article. In the article, I discuss my favorite topics - social media and online reputation management.
Yesterday I read an article about SheKnows.com (touted as the #1 women's site on the internet). Unfortunately, SheKnows.com is in hot water and I am certain their #1 ranking has slipped considerably.
According to the Adweek article, the editors sent out emails encouraging their writers to repeatedly click on Panera's ads, which is known as click fraud. When Panera found out what they did, they immediately pulled their ads. Click fraud is punishable by law and is considered a felony in some states.
SheKnows.com issued a statement that the editors were "disciplined" and the editors violated their ad policies. My question to management: did these actually editors read an employee handbook that clearly states their ad policies? And did these editors sign off that they read and understood their ad policies? If they signed on the dotted line, then they definitely have good reason to fire these editors. If no such handbook exists, then the responsibility falls on the shoulders of management/HR.
I dug around online, and I did not see ANY comments from SheKnows.com directly responding to people's comments - most were unfavorable comments against the site. A negative article in Adweek is not the kind of 'bad' publicity you want. There is a huge lesson to be learned from their mistake. And click fraud is more than just an "oops"!
Hopefully, you won't EVER experience this kind of PR nightmare, but it could happen. If you find your company faced with a crisis situation that could seriously damage your reputation, keep these tips in mind. Be proactive and NOT reactive!
#1 If there are legal implications involved, seek legal advice/counsel immediately.
#2 Take immediate disciplinary action against employees who were involved. It's important to get all the facts first. Dependent upon what policies were violated, you may have to fire employees.
#3 Appoint your marketing/communications director (who understands media relations) to handle ALL media inquiries. If you don't have a designated marketing person, appoint your CEO or owner to take the lead. Do not allow staff to answer questions or talk to media. Issue a formal statement to the media and don't waiver in your statements. Remain calm. Don't become reactionary or defensive when answering questions. Don't forget to respond directly to "negative "comments on your website, blog, and social media channels. Use online rep management software or Google alerts to track your brand/company name.
#4 Right the wrong. If the "mistake" involves another company, customer client, or vendor (in this case, Panera), how can you make it up to them? Keep the communications channels open and don't shut your door in their face.
#5 Take a good, hard look at your employees and policies. Do your research. Why did this happen? How can you improve your policies and operations? A company should never become complacent and static. Communicate with your employees and see where the break-down happened.
I'm a stickler for business ethics and I realize that mistakes happen, but this is one mistake that could be very costly for SheKnows.com. And no one wants to buy ads from a company who engages in fraudulent online activity. Ads equal revenue and without ads, their bottom-line will be seriously impacted.
Have you experienced a crisis situation within your company or business? How did you handle it? What were your results?