It doesn’t matter how hard you try to avoid one or mitigate the effects of a questionable incident. Eventually, your company will likely face some type of public relations disaster.
It could be something monumental, like a major product defect that’s caused significant accidents and damages, or something almost innocent, like a misquote on social media. PR disasters are rarely predictable and often destructive, but the way you respond to a disaster can completely mold its eventual outcome. Depending on the severity of the event, there may be irreparable lasting damage to your brand, but if you treat it cautiously and view it as an opportunity, you can harness it for its potential benefits.
PR disasters generate lots of negative attention, which isn’t ideal, but it’s still a lot of attention. If you can use that influx of attention to improve your company’s relevance, you could potentially neutralize the brand-damaging effects of the situation with a significant ranking boost.
First, I want to set the context for the modern world of public relations. There was a time when PR disasters were best addressed by limiting their range of influence. Withholding details, speaking ambiguously, and decreasing the number of publications covering the story were all important strategies that could limit the number of eyes and ears on the incident in question.
Today, everything is immediately and easily available. Even if you take an article off the web within minutes of its publication, there’s a chance it could have already been shared and re-shared by a thousand online readers. There is a perpetual nature to everything posted online, and since almost everything is posted online, there is virtually nothing you can effectively silence. Companies that try to hide facts or delete posts are often called out on their secretive efforts, generating more negative attention and an even harsher blow to their brand’s reputation.
Knowing this, it’s almost always better to openly acknowledge a company mistake. People are going to learn about it no matter what, so they might as well hear it from you. If you take the time to address the problem and have the courtesy to allow the inevitable negative comments to exist, you’ll be seen as more trustworthy and more human than if you simply try to cover up everything.
That being said, there are a handful of strategies you can use to boost your SEO ranks while the PR disaster hits.
It’s unfortunate, but more people want to read about disasters than positive announcements. It’s a natural, yet morbid, human curiosity. Think about that in terms of your press release potential during a PR disaster. If you publish a piece of content announcing or responding to some negative event, it’s incredibly likely you’ll be picked up by a variety of syndication channels. Once published on those channels, you’ll get ample attention (even if it’s negative attention), which will only lead to more web traffic and more links.
The negative public reaction to the event will eventually fade, as long as you handle it properly, but the backlinks you generate from the newsworthy announcement are permanent. You may not like the fact that the information will remain on the web forever, but it’s probably going to be there no matter what, so you might as well enjoy the boost in domain authority you get from all the extra links.
Linkless brand mentions will also be prevalent during the incident, especially in the form of user comments to press releases or references on external blogs. These brand mentions are also valuable for building your authority, and serve as a complement to traditional backlinks.
Submitting a press release about the event also gives you an opportunity to proactively and publicly respond. Your readers will see that you acknowledge and care about the event, and depending on what you say, you could easily turn their opinions around. Simply admitting an error and apologizing for it is sometimes enough to make up for whatever happened. Plus, whenever someone searches for the incident, it’s better to see a title like “X Corporation Apologies for Grievous Error” rather than something like “X Corporation Has Yet to Respond to Grievous Error,” especially early on in the response cycle.
You can make a handful of onsite posts about the event as well. Doing so will give you the opportunity to address the incident directly, and since you’ll be seen as the primary authority on the subject, you’ll naturally attract dozens (if not hundreds) of new backlinks to those onsite posts. It’s a free opportunity to create more, relevant, newsworthy content, and at the same time, you’ll have an easy link magnet that can boost your domain authority even more.
PR disasters are the perfect chance to show your true colors on social media. Some disasters have gotten worse when companies try to delete social media posts from other users, or respond in a robotic and formulaic way. On the other hand, some disasters have gotten better when companies acknowledge each responder personally, and do what they can to explain the situation and make it better.
Depending on the severity of your disaster and the size of your company, you may benefit from having a dedicated employee monitoring your social media profiles on a near-constant basis, responding to every comment that comes up and posting updates as appropriate. The extra social media juice won’t just improve your reputation in the eyes of your current followers; it will also make you seem more authoritative and more conversational in the eyes of Google. It’s not entirely clear how social media activity is measured or incorporated into Google rankings, but more followers and more activity are definitely a plus.
It may seem like a risky move, but if you encourage people to respond to your disaster, you’ll get a lot more attention on the web. In your onsite content, press releases, and social media posts, ask your readers to tell you how they feel about the incident, and ask what you can do to make it up to them. It will show that you care about your audience enough to value their opinions, and it might give you the chance to learn how to ameliorate the situation. Plus, depending on how they choose to respond, the additional responses will serve as additional content for your SEO campaign.
PR disasters are something every company dreads, and by all means, you should avoid them whenever possible. But not everything is preventable or predictable, so when disaster does hit, it pays to be prepared with a secondary strategy that can make the most of a bad situation. Undoubtedly, you’ll lose a percentage of your customers as a result, but if you can spin the situation in your favor, you’ll increase the loyalty of the customers who remain, and you’ll make your brand more visible to an audience of potential new followers. If you use your PR disaster to improve your SEO standings, you’ll be poised to benefit from the incident once the initial blowback begins to die down.