How to Turn Bad Publicity Into A Good Thing For Your Business

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A couple of weeks ago, I explained how customer complaints can increase sales and why the customer is always right.

In that post, I focused on how customer complaints should be seen as an opportunity – not only to improve upon your product or service in the long term, but to capitalize upon the complaint itself.

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After all, 70% – 95% of customers will return if you resolve their complaint, and if you go out of your way to do so in a highly positive manner, you may even benefit from it.

But what about bad publicity? What if a customer complaint goes viral, or a journalist latches onto a shortcoming in your business and publishes it for your potential customers to see?

I was involved in one such situation quite recently, and I feel that my story may be able to help you in understanding that whilst bad publicity is hardly a good thing, it must be dealt with in a positive way, and can ultimately bring about positive results.

WordPress.org and CodeGuard

I am a writer for the popular WordPress blog, WPMU. I review themes and plugins, write the occasional tutorial, and enjoy a little rant every now and then. Back in July, I happened to let fly with one such rant.

I published a post entitled “Should WordPress.org Host Premium Subscription-Based Plugins?“, which focused on one particular plugin that is hosted on the WordPress.org Plugins Repository. For those of you who don’t know, the WordPress.org Plugins Repository is a directory of free plugins that you can download and install on your own self-hosted WordPress sites.

The target of my ire was CodeGuard – a plugin that detects changes to your blog and automatically carries out cloud-based backups. It looked like a pretty good product. There was just one problem – it was a premium plugin. Although it was hosted in a free directory, once you downloaded and activated the plugin, the next thing it wanted was your credit card details.

That really got my back up, and the result was a post published on a very popular WordPress blog, calling out CodeGuard for what I viewed as subversive tactics. For CodeGuard, it was not welcome publicity.

When Life Gives You Lemons…

Why CodeGuard did what they did isn’t particularly important, and that’s the first thing you should realize when dealing with bad publicity – it doesn’t matter if it was as a result of your negligence or greed, or if you are a innocent victim to an over-zealous journalist. What is important is resolution, which is essentially a two-step process:

  1. What have we done wrong (or, what have we been portrayed to have done wrong)?
  2. How do we resolve the (possibly perceived, and perhaps not actual) wrongdoing?

Your response to bad publicity must be utterly honest and frank. If you really have consciously done something wrong, or got something wrong, admit it. Everyone will have already jumped to conclusions, so you are not going to change any minds by attempting to excuse your actions.

Admit your wrongdoing in an honest and contrite fashion. You can of course explain the situation, but as soon as you start trying to defend yourself, you will probably do more harm than good.

Related: What Your Customer Really Wants – Lessons Learned From Taking Customer Support Calls

CodeGuard got their response about half right. Two of their founders left messages in the comments section of my post. Here’s the first:

As a co-founder of CodeGuard (but not an active employee), I can tell you that we have been searching for the right fremium model for pricing. We used to offer a free backup with a paid restore but apparently that met some resistance.

It is important for you to realize that unlike most Plugin, CodeGuard is a Software as a Service company and our solution requires significant infrastructure and support costs; we run a hosted offsite backup system. The plugin is just the component that makes it easier to backup WordPress specifically.

None of this justifies labeling the plugin as free and charging for the service it enables but I assure you our team is working to update this messaging ASAP.

Not too bad. Excuses are made in an attempt to justify their actions, but he finished on a strong note with a full admission of fault.

Unfortunately, the second message wasn’t quite so contrite:

The plugin is in the directory for convenience. I’m using this on several dozen sites and it’s a PIA to have to rummage around for the plugin files every time I want to install. The “Add Plugin” button is much easier, and hosting on WordPress.org reminds people to update the plugin when needed, and automates the update process. The plugin wasn’t placed on WordPress.org for advertising.

Bad start. This chap is essentially saying, “One of the reasons that the plugin is installed on WordPress.org is for my own convenience. What I didn’t consider (or simply didn’t care about) is that WordPress.org users are being duped into downloading what they think is a free plugin”.

And the claim that the plugin wasn’t placed on WordPress.org as an advertising effort is a real struggle to believe, given that any plugin developer with half a brain is fully aware of how powerful it can be as a promotional force.

A couple weeks ago CodeGuard stopped offering free backups. Previously, for more than a year, CodeGuard offered a free plan. We forgot to update the text on WordPress.org. We’re a startup, not a huge bureaucracy with checklists and marketing staff.

Now we see the justification. The plugin did have a free service, but it was retracted. It would seem that the co-founder felt that we should’ve accepted the oversight on the basis that they are a startup. Last time I checked, consumers and customers aren’t quite that forgiving.

There is one key thing that both founders omitted from their comments – an apology. This comes as a surprise, given that it would appear that their error was a genuine oversight.

Taking Action to Counter Bad Publicity

CodeGuard’s initial response was pretty good. They weren’t particularly argumentative (which is perhaps the worst way in which you could react), they admitted fault, and gave assurances that they were looking to resolve the issue. However, it was what they did next that impressed me.

A few days after the post was published, I received a lengthy email from the CEO of CodeGuard, in which he explained the history of his product, explained in detail why their premium-only plugin had become available on WordPress.org, and admitted full blame for the issue.

He also stated that he would reinstate a free option for WordPress.org users. Just a few days later, he emailed again to confirm that a new free plan is now in place.

I was seriously impressed by the turnaround. So much so that I felt it would only be reasonable to take positive action. So this week, I will be publishing a full review of the CodeGuard plugin, and I will place a notice on my original post stating what has happened since it was published.

In the long term, the negative impact on CodeGuard will be minimal – in fact, it may even be positive. The way in which they chose to react to bad publicity is a great example of how to make the most of a bad situation.

Takeaways

Of course, bad publicity can take many different forms, so I think it is important to focus upon the fundamental factors in terms of your response:

  • Be honest and (when appropriate) contrite.
  • Be positive and engaging, rather than argumentative or defensive (regardless of whether you think you are right or wrong).
  • Seek to resolve the issue in whatever way you see fit, and make it clear to the source of the bad publicity that you are doing so.

Have you ever had to deal with bad publicity, and if so, do you have any thoughts to add? Let us know in the comments section!

This post was written by Tom Ewer, a regular contributor for MyWifeQuitHerJob.com!

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6 thoughts on “How to Turn Bad Publicity Into A Good Thing For Your Business”

  1. We all make mistakes Steve! If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be human! I think you handled this situation in the best way possible.

  2. Great tips! They use to say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but I think most business owners know this isn’t true. It’s a good idea to have a plan in place to deal with bad publicity if and when it comes.

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