Regular Zen readers will know that I’m a runner. When you first start running, you tell yourself that it’s the cheapest sport – all you need is a pair of sneakers, and you can head outside and do it. While this is (essentially) true, we runners love our gadgets and our products, and sharing our favorites of the same.
It won’t surprise you to learn that I’m in a couple of Facebook groups dedicated to running, including a pretty large one, and we often share products we love. A popular one among the group is the sunglasses brand, Goodr, who have been known as a fun, edgy brand with glasses that stay put on your face during long, sweaty runs, have a basset hound mascot, and catchy names for their sunnies. I own three pairs myself.
Over the weekend, one of the members of the group alerted us to a couple of social posts that the brand had shared both on Facebook and Instagram – one of them suggested mixing vicodin with alcohol, and the other joked about using your sunglasses when you head into the desert to take hallucinogens. As you can imagine, there was some backlash about a brand promoting drug use. The company initially responded by deleting one of the posts, and putting up an Instagram story (a post that disappears after 24 hours) that was a tongue-in-cheek apology. After additional backlash, including comments from their partner, Olympian Kara Goucher, requiring a more sincere apology, they issued a statement on their website, and also amended the description for the glasses, which also included the promotional language.
However, there two founders were totally silent.
What does this have to do with lawyers and firm leadership?
There are some great lessons to be learned here.
- Crisis Communications: Presumably, you have a crisis communications plan in place. Everyone makes mistakes, and the audience’s general consensus was two-fold – first, how did this get approval (more on that in a moment) and second, why did Goodr take so long to respond? With a solid, tested crisis communications plan in place, you can implement it as soon as an issue starts to unfold. If you’re telling yourself “oh, we’d never be so stupid as to let something like that happen,” be cautious – firms can have unhappy staff or partner departures, hacked accounts, or just misplaced judgment that leads to a small error becoming a big crisis. Having a plan in place that is tested and not sitting on a shelf somewhere means that you are prepared to take action right away.
- Important to note: Deleting your posts is not a solution. Yes, the posts should be deleted, but that deletion needs to be addressed as part of the crisis plan. Screenshots live forever, so even if you believe you’ve removed every instance of it, someone will have a copy. The more you try to hide it, the more determined people will be to showcase it.
- If you’re a small organization, or even a large one, don’t be afraid to bring in outside help to develop this plan. It may not be your area of expertise, so let the experts handle it, both in developing and executing the plan. Mishandling a crisis can make the initial mistake much much worse. However, that being said…
- Leadership needs to be visible: communicating during a crisis is not something that’s delegated. Yes, your plan should have a spokesperson, someone who is knowledgeable about the company and good with responding under pressure to the public, the media, etc. But there are two important notes here – that spokesperson should be fairly senior, if not very senior in the firm, showing that you take the issues very seriously and are addressing them as such. And secondly, even if the firm leaders are not the spokespeople during a crisis, social media makes us all accessible. So the plan should account for supplying messaging across the firm that everyone is able to confidently deliver. They don’t have to engage in the same way the spokesperson does, but when pushed, they shouldn’t be isolated in the ivory tower on the hill either. The latter sends the message that the company or firm is either hiding something or is uncaring. Staying consistent, but also as transparent as you can be in the moment, is the best way to provide comfort to clients.
- Apologies are important: I know lawyers get very squirrely about apologies, because it’s important to be careful about assuming liability. But in accordance with your counsel, your management committee, and your plan, it can and should be a part of your crisis communications. But it’s more than just “I’m sorry.” Clients need to hear what went wrong, why you think it went wrong, and how you’re going to fix it. In Goodr’s case, it would have been extremely helpful for them to say “We messed up – we thought this was a joke, but it crossed the line. We agree that it’s not funny, so we’re going to better train our marketing and social media department on where the line is, and make an XX donation to this charity for recovery from opioid abuse.” Many times, all the other person wants to hear is that they were right, and you’re sorry. It goes a long way to repair the relationship, and sometimes your reputation can end up stronger.
Goodr has done a lot of good with their success, including supporting anti-domestic abuse causes. All of that becomes lost with a couple of social media posts that I’m sure someone thought were edgy and funny. You never know what small thing may touch a nerve. Are you prepared to show up and face the storm should your firm be in the crisis cross-hairs?