In many ways, social media has changed the way we search for jobs, especially among C-level executives. While social media has made professional networking much easier, it has also made mistakes and blunders much more public. When C-level executives experience bad publicity, they may begin to worry about their future job prospects and the stability of their current positions. Undoubtedly, if individuals do not have the skills they need to handle bad publicity with grace, they can make matters much worse and permanently tarnish their reputations. On the other hand, if C-level workers understand how to handle bad publicity effectively, they can quickly bounce back and salvage their good names. To deal with bad publicity gracefully, keep the following tips in mind:
Performing strongly post-scandal often results in public amnesia.
Perhaps the most effective way to deal with bad publicity is simply to outperform it. When individuals, as well as their companies, perform beyond expectations, previous concerns seem to fade away. The best example of this phenomenon is Apple. While this company is a behemoth today, it nearly foundered in the 1990s when it briefly ousted Steve Jobs. Today, no one remembers the subpar products put out during this period because of the excellent products offered today. While this example reflects a company, not an executive, the same principle applies to individuals. Look at Robert Downey Jr., whose career was basically over 15 years ago. Instead of disappearing, he started making excellent movies and now no one talks about his past failures. C-level executives can follow suit when they face bad publicity.
Differentiate between professional and unprofessional criticisms.
A major difference exists between people who try to pick a fight on Internet forums and bad reviews published in legitimate news sources. Most C-level executives understand that engaging with Internet reviewers is a silly and pointless fight. Often, these individuals have no real stake in a brand and simply want to make someone else’s life hard as a way to keep themselves entertained. Engaging with these individuals is always a losing battle.
On the other hand, newspapers and magazines have large followings, and negative press on these platforms can be very dangerous. C-level executives often feel an obligation to respond to criticisms coming from these sources, but they must do so tactfully and diplomatically. For that reason, they should avoid immediate, emotion-driven responses. Starting a mud-slinging fight with a major media source will almost never end well for a C-level executive. If possible, it is best to consult a public relations (PR) professional before responding, because a complete lack of response is ultimately still a story.
Silence is a legitimate option.
When it comes to Internet-based criticism, silence will typically cause the buzz to die off over time. Many Internet detractors who start a fight give up after their target fails to respond despite repeated provocations. In fact, responding to these criticisms may give them more legitimacy than they really have. If C-level executives do choose to engage these individuals, they must do so strategically and with the final aim of aligning the company for success. Trying to get in the last word typically results in losing the war. Silence does make a statement, but not necessarily a negative one. Many people think that silence implies guilt, but this is simply not the case in the business world.
However, silence does not mean that individuals should simply ignore the criticisms being hurled at them. Sometimes, criticism comes from one angry customer who felt wronged, but that does not necessarily mean that the opinion is not valid. Certainly, if many individuals are offering the same criticism, then something needs to change or the bad publicity will only continue to escalate. Listening to that first person who lodges a complaint can help avoid major issues farther down the line.
Never neglect the views and opinions of employees.
While bad publicity may seem like a problem that involves the media rather than the company, the truth is that C-level executives should spend just as much time, if not more, engaging with their employees as they do speaking with members of the press. Sometimes, bad publicity comes from a disgruntled employee. In this case, it is best to speak quickly and directly with the employee to discover the root of the problem, and then work together toward a solution. When the complaint comes from outside the company, C-level individuals must still engage with employees to keep them abreast of the situation and give them the opportunity to ask questions. Ideally, C-level executives should provide a wide range of opportunities for employee interaction, from large town-hall meetings to smaller group conversations.
During periods of bad publicity, employees often prove to be a C-level executive’s strongest ally. Bad publicity can change the culture of a company for the worse, so individuals need to stay ahead of the story and ensure that the morale of the company does not disintegrate. Further, employees must feel like they can trust their executives, so transparency is critical. Executives should talk about the situation openly and honestly while carefully considering any solutions employees might offer.