Gone Viral: The Videos That Put PR Pros on Alert and How to Combat Them

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This week the mother of all viral videos sucker-punched United Airlines. But that’s the nature of viral videos, right? They are unexpected in timing and subject matter. But how the brand handles it in the hours after is crucial to coming out on the other side.

The United video first emerged early Monday morning showing a passenger being forcibly removed to make room for United staff that also needed to get to the same destination. At its worst in the aftermath, United’s stock lost more than $1 billion.

Of course, this isn’t the first time a viral video has made brands go into PR-crisis-management mode.

Uber’s Wild Ride

This winter, Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick was caught on video arguing with one of his own drivers. The world got an impression of the leader of the tech giant that was less than flattering. And that video was on the heels of sexual harassment allegations at the company and in the middle of an executive exodus which included Uber president Jeff Jones. And just this week, Uber’s head of communications, Rachel Whetstone resigned. All of these PR challenges for Uber can be tough to take, especially after the top communicator at the company leaves.


Samsung Hits a Flat Note

What about Samsung? The video of the burned Galaxy Note 7 last year was just one example of this brand’s viral nightmare. The initial problem was that the battery was too large for its casing and caused the devices to overheat. But in a rush to create a safer replacement, the supplier of the new battery had a defect that also caused it to overheat. That’s when the final recall happened. The company pulled the devices and urged Note 7 owners to immediately stop using them and return them for an exchange or refund. Last fall, the company predicted it would lose $3.1 billion because of the recall over the next six months.

Taking PR Action

These companies didn’t see these damaging videos coming. The United and Uber videos were entirely preventable, and Samsung probably would have had to come to terms with its defective product sooner or later.

Brands should always expect that cameras are rolling. Nearly everyone has a smartphone and they can start recording in seconds. So what do you do if and when your company becomes the subject?

1. Address the issue right away and be on the right side of it!

Kalanick apologized and blamed himself for his bad behavior. The Uber video story went away relatively quickly.

United issued a half-assed apology on Monday, but it wasn’t until after its stock dropped significantly on Tuesday that the CEO took full responsibility and vowed to make things right. Had this been done first thing Monday, it’s possible Tuesday’s stock plunge wouldn’t have happened or have been as bad.

And Samsung’s issues went on for weeks. The first reports of exploding Note 7’s came in late summer. They recalled the devices after getting several reports. But by not taking the time to ensure the replacement’s safety, they did more damage. And it wasn’t until several reports came in when they finally pulled the Note 7 for good in October 2016.

2. Connect with the affected customers, quickly.

The serious flaws with United and Samsung were that they didn’t take the event seriously enough in the beginning. Bad-mouthing or silencing a customer during a crisis is not the way to go. There are reports that Samsung tried to keep customers who had an exploding replacement Note 7 from going to the media with the news.

Come up with a good compensation plan and deliver it to those who were affected. In Samsung’s case, they offered an exchange or refund and up to $100 off on their service bill. Tuesday, United said it would reimburse the cost of the flight for all passengers on board

3. Do something good for the community.

Sponsor an event or donate to a charity. If possible, tie the donation to an organization that relates to the issue at hand.

The United video this week is not the last time we’ll see a shocking cell phone video, so be prepared. Following these suggestions as early as possible after the incident will quickly put your company in a better light to move beyond the viral video.

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