Reputation incident preparation for retail businesses

Building your business's reputation can take years, and yet it can be damaged or destroyed in hours.

Potential reputation incidents can take businesses by surprise and may include:

  • highly negative media or social media coverage
  • rumour-driven crisis (spread of unfounded rumour)
  • inappropriate workplace behaviour (e.g. bullying, harassment)
  • organisational misdeeds and legal action (e.g. fraud, theft).

To get back to business sooner, use these 4 stages to help your business manage a reputation incident:

Top 10 tips to manage a reputation incident

Use these top 10 tips to prepare your business. For detailed steps, continue reading below.

  • Tip 1

    Make a plan

    Identify your risks and plan what you will do

  • Tip 2

    Write policies and procedures

    Develop customer complaint, workplace and staff policies to avoid potential incidents

  • Tip 3

    Develop social media policies

    Develop social media and media guidelines to handle an incident

  • Tip 4

    Train staff

    Ensure staff know and understand policies and guidelines

  • Tip 5

    Respond to incidents

    Check facts, prepare messages, identify a key spokesperson, contact key stakeholders and your industry association, and monitor social media

  • Tip 6

    Communicate

    Be quick to correct false or misleading information

  • Tip 7

    Wellbeing and safety

    Support impacted staff and connect them with support services

  • Tip 8

    Connect

    Connect with customers to reassure them of steps taken to prevent the incident reoccurring

  • Tip 9

    Promote your business

    Develop marketing strategies to promote positive news or deals

  • Tip 10

    Recovery planning

    Record lessons learned and update policies, plans and staff training

Prevent and prepare for a reputation incident

Providing an immediate and coordinated response after an incident that can damage your business's reputation can help minimise its impact.

Developing policies and procedures can help prevent reputation incidents from happening and preparing and planning how you will respond to an incident can also help minimise its impact.

Make a plan

Complete a business continuity plan to prepare, respond and recover from potential reputation risks.

Steps to include in your plan:

  • identify the key events and risks that are most likely to occur and would have the most negative impact on your business, including
    • highly negative media or social media coverage
    • rumour-driven crisis (spread of unfounded rumour)
    • inappropriate workplace behaviour (e.g. bullying, harassment)
    • organisational misdeeds and legal action (e.g. fraud, theft)
  • use the WorkSafe risk management plan template to create your plan
  • plan and record how you will respond to key risks and incidents – put policies and procedures in place
  • conduct regular training with staff and update your plan.

Prepare a communication or marketing plan using this information to help you know what to say and when.

Include in your plan:

  • who is responsible for speaking to the media and managing social media
  • social media and media guidelines
  • key messages to handle potential damaging incidents.

Write policies and procedures

Write business policies, procedures and standards to reduce the likelihood of incidents occurring.

Use this sample social media guidelines template and adapt to your business's needs.

Develop media guidelines by using these tips:

  • appoint a media spokesperson for your business
  • outline how to respond to media phone calls and messages
    • get the journalist's name, organisation, contact details and deadline
    • ask what questions they have
    • let them know the appropriate person will respond shortly
  • provide comments to the journalist only if it directly relates to your area of expertise and you have approval
  • before responding to the media
  • during an interview
    • don't feel you have to answer every question, just stick to what you want to say
    • avoid saying 'no comment', instead say 'I can't confirm right now', or 'I don't have those details', and 'what I can tell you is'.

Develop processes for customer complaints and managing negative online comments and reviews. These can include:

  • responding to genuine concerns and negative reviews
  • listening and responding to customer feedback professional and politely
  • responding privately to resolve issues raised online, but later posting how you have resolved it
  • removing offensive online posts
  • correcting or removing any misleading or false online content as soon as possible.

Policies and procedures

To avoid inappropriate behaviour ensure you have appropriate workplace health and safety and staff policies in place, including:

Additional resources

Review IT threat preparation to learn how to protect your business from cyber attacks or data hacking incidents and how to implement online staff guidelines to avoid business data or customer privacy breaches.

Respond to a reputation incident

Key steps to take in the first hour following an incident:

  • check and confirm the facts
  • contact authorities (if required)
  • brief relevant staff
  • decide if you should respond
  • prepare messaging
  • decide who to contact, when to contact them, and the best communication channels (e.g. social media, radio, TV, newspapers)
  • if appropriate, contact key stakeholders or those directly affected
  • monitor social media and media coverage
  • suspend scheduled social media posts or advertising campaigns until the incident is resolved.

Respond by incident

First decide if responding to the issue will help or make the situation worse.

Social media response:

Media response:

  • review your media guidelines (if you have them)
  • prepare your media response
  • ensure the tone of your message is not defensive
  • emphasise the wellbeing and safety of your staff, customers and the community come first
  • explain relevant circumstances that may have lead to the incident, polices in place to address it and steps taken to resolve it and prevent it from happening again
  • put the incident into context – if appropriate, highlight how long your business has successfully operated without having a similar issue or has managed similar issues
  • provide written responses to journalists.

Social media rumours:

  • always be quick to correct or remove false or misleading information posted on your social media site(s)
  • consider if responding to certain social media posts will help or escalate the issue
  • when responding, always remain professional, respectful and polite.

Media rumours:

  • before responding to false media reports, consider if your comments will help or whether it will result in additional negative media attention
  • when responding, clearly state how information or claims being made are incorrect, provide evidence where possible and ask the media outlet to remove the information or provide a retraction on the same or next day.

If the rumour has received wide coverage, send out communications to the media, staff, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders.

  • Investigate all complaints of inappropriate workplace behaviour – using an external investigator can prevent claims of bias.
  • Suspend the person responsible if there's a serious breach of your behaviour policy or code of conduct.
  • Notify the police if required.
  • Seek advice if needed from
    • Workplace Advice Service offers free legal assistance on dismissals, workplace bullying and general protections
    • Heads up offers advice on bullying and mental health in the workplace.
  • Identify how policies were breached and update procedures to stop it happening again.
  • Let staff know how you're handling the incident and advise them of any new or updated policies.

Recover from a reputation incident

Check staff involved are okay and provide them with information and details for support services.

  • Develop a marketing and promotion plan to promote positive information about your business.
  • Evaluate how you handled the incident.
  • Record lessons learned and update your business policies and business continuity plan.
  • Advise or train staff on appropriate behaviour and workplace culture and policies.

Communicate

Communicate is crucial during a reputational incident. Your staff and customers will want to know what you are doing to manage the incident, minimise the damage and stop it from happening again.

Consider who your business needs to communicate with during an incident which could cause reputational damage. Key stakeholders may include:

  • staff
  • customers, visitors or guests
  • clients
  • suppliers and distributors
  • industry body or association
  • regulatory body or agency.

Use social media channels and your website to get the message out widely. It is recommended you talk to staff face to face and phone or email key customers, clients or suppliers who may be directly affected.

You can adapt the messages below to suit your stakeholders.

We're sorry to hear about your experience with (include details). We take pride in our (services/products) and take feedback from customers seriously. Please message us directly so we can help you resolve this issue.

  • Rumours that our business is experiencing financial difficulties (or other rumours) are completely unfounded and incorrect.
  • We are open for business as usual.
  • If customers or clients have any concerns, please feel free to contact us directly.
  • We take this matter very seriously and have a zero-tolerance policy towards workplace (bullying/harassment).
  • The person involved has been suspended (or placed on leave) pending the outcome of the investigation.
  • We are cooperating with authorities and have launched an independent investigation into the matter.
  • Due to privacy considerations we cannot discuss the investigation publicly at this stage.
  • As an initial step, we have put in place additional procedures for all staff members to (provide appropriate information) so this doesn't happen again.
  • We will also review our policies and procedures to introduce mandatory ethics and workplace culture training as part of our staff inductions.
  • We understand this is a distressing situation and an independent investigator is looking into the incident.
  • We send our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of (in case of an accident or death).
  • The wellbeing of our staff, customers and the community always comes first.
  • As this matter is before the court, we can't comment on the specific details of the incident, but will provide more information when we can.
  • Thank you for your understanding at this stressful time.

Go back to Small business disaster hub for other industries and disasters.