Crisis management for startups How to master a disaster with confidence

A shitstorm can hit any company - regardless of its size or industry. The rapid spread of information in the age of social media means that a small faux pas or bad decision can quickly have a big impact. But don't panic! With the right strategy and a courageous mindset, any startup can survive a crisis and even come out stronger.

Quick reaction is key

No matter what has happened, the reaction should be as quick as possible. Because while the company is still in a panic mode, wild speculation and conjecture are already spreading on Twitter etc.. Therefore, it is important that the company quickly makes a statement and reacts to the accusations. However, it is important not to rush things just to get a statement out quickly. Hiding or ignoring is not an option either. In order to ensure a quick but well-founded statement, the communicative decision-making power should not depend on a pointed hierarchy: The fewer decision-makers, the faster a response.

Transparency & responsibility

While a quick response is important, an honest response is even more important. If the company has made a mistake, it should own  it and take responsibility. This may be difficult at first glance, but it shows strength and credibility. Example: If a startup has portrayed the business model as more sustainable than it actually is, it is better to communicate this openly and apologise than to try to cover it up.

No excuses, but solutions

Companies that work quickly on solutions instead of making excuses and blaming partners or other organisations for their crisis, show strength. Here it is worthwhile to make a list of the target groups affected and to work out solutions based on this list. In this way, the target groups that really matter are happy again in the end.

Show empathy

A crisis can not only affect the company itself, but also their targetgroups. It is therefore important to show empathy and respond to those affected. An example: If a start-up distributes food and there were problems with the expiry dates , it is important that the company not only takes measures to solve the problem, but also shows understanding for the customers’ dissapointment. This is ideally done via social media, or in the case of major crises, through smart PR work. For example, the US fast food chain KFC apologised for a fauxpas with a humorous newspaper ad where they changed KFC letters on a packaging to FCK.  

Use social media as a tool

Although social media is often the cause of a shitstorm, it can also be an effective tool to overcome a crisis. Companies should use it to communicate quickly and openly with the affected target groups and give them updates. Even if the company is still criticised by some users, sometimes  there are also supporters who speak positively and can help the company to get out of the crisis. Social Media offers the opportunity to openly describe one's own view of the crisis. But beware: the trust of customers in the company's own channels is usually lower than in the press. So it is often worthwhile to do press work in order to win back trust in the long term.

Learn from the crisis and prepare yourself

Every crisis can also be an opportunity to learn from it. It reveals gaps in the communication strategy. Start-ups should implement frequently asked questions in the form of FAQs on their website and react quickly to customer complaints. It also makes sense to develop a communication strategy that takes effect when you are already in a crisis. Use every crisis as an opportunity to improve your brand.