A former professor of mine used constantly drill into our impressionable minds this phrase: Make a friend before you need a friend. The idea behind this piece of genius advice is to be on good terms with your audience before a crisis occurs; even if you are currently deluding yourself that such calamity could never strike your company.
What this brilliant educator was referring to was the notion that proactively getting to know members of the media would be of immeasurable benefit during times of catastrophe. This idea makes perfect sense, because reporters will be naturally inclined to represent your side of the story more favorably if you are already on good terms with them. It can also be combined with a social media technique which steps around reporters and reaches the audience directly.
A solid subscriber base of people interested in your product or service is a valuable asset; these people already have some inclination to support your organization, and can easily help your message spread through the interwebs like the flu spreads through an elementary school. This is the opposite approach to the “no comment” mistake, which ended up tanking companies like the Peanut Corporation of America, which went bankrupt in 2009 after the Peanut Butter Crisis.
BP was another company that decided to ignore the general public, prompting outraged consumers to create mock Twitter accounts, making the disaster even worse than it already was.
More recently, allegations have been brought against Pepsi by a customer claiming to have found a dead mouse in his can of Mountain Dew. Pepsi states that this is impossible, because the acidity of the soft drink would have disintegrated the mouse before the product reached its drinker. While this doesn’t exactly sound like a positive point to me, people who choose to Do the Dew don’t really seem to care how awful the beverage is for them, and Pepsi is doing a great job at responding to mentions coming directly from their customers over the social networks.
Finally, this system has the added benefit of the ability to gauge public opinion, which is particularly important during times of crisis. Mountain Dew is getting a lot more feedback about a running contest than the dead rodent, which is probably good news for them.