Over the past week, pro-choice extremists targeted pregnancy help centers through online attacks, phone calls, and protests at the center’s physical locations. The protesters created a website called ExposeFakeClinics.com that detailed information about the location, contact information and online profiles of more than 4,000 pregnancy help centers worldwide.
The flood of confrontational conversations and negative reviews posed a threat to the reputation of many centers. The mission of a pregnancy help center is never to mislead potential clients, but rather to assist them with the decision-making process by providing free and confidential services.
Due to this widespread misinformation, pregnancy help centers often find themselves at the center of such reputation attacks, and when this happens, it’s vital for your organization to respond the right way to maintain (or even bolster) your reputation.
In this post, we offer guidelines for how to create a crisis management plan to help prepare your staff members and volunteers for the battles to come.
1. Be Aware
Keep tabs on groups that are likely to attempt to smear your organization’s reputation. Knowing exactly what messages they are sending, who they’re sending it to, and when they plan to organize, can help prepare a crisis management plan. If you haven’t already, prepare a plan to respond during times of crisis. Finally, keep in mind that activists are individuals with high levels of anger and efficacy. Therefore, when forming responses to this audience, think of ways to diffuse their anger in a way that will reflect well on your organization. Remember that their anger stems from misinformation, so offering the truth about your organization in a non-confrontational manner can help.
It’s also key to understand that you can’t please everyone. Focus on correcting misinformation and maintaining an honest, professional tone when speaking with those that oppose your center. Keep calm and keep any feelings of anger or frustration you might experience away from the public eye.
2. Have a Crisis Management Team
Create a plan that will create a united, clear message about your organization’s response to protests and criticism. Clear messaging about your organization and its mission will help your staff members and volunteers respond to negativity in a respectful and professional manner.
In addition, appoint a team of staff and volunteers to respond when crisis occurs. Encourage experienced members to participate on this team by providing insight and feedback on your plan. Designate a respected member of your board to act as the voice of your organization when news sources reach out. It is also important to provide clear guidelines for your team on what to do and what not to do in certain situations.
In crisis, perception is reality, and controlling perception gives your PHC the opportunity to move forward.
3. Know Your Audience
Remember that organized campaigns affect more than just your organization’s reputation: clients, donors and volunteers or staff can have heightened levels of distress due to these attacks. Having a strategy for reaching out to each of your audiences should be a key element of your crisis management plan. Ease this stress with reassuring, affirming internal communication that acknowledges the situation and details a plan for image protection or restoration. You should already have a profile of your clinic’s demographics, so use that information to help create effective messaging. Your mission of informing women and families coming into your clinic should continue, but think of effective ways to reassure women that they are making the right decision. Finally, donors and stakeholders are typically a more empowered audience, so develop messaging that assures them that you are handling protests proactively and effectively.
4. Manage the Online Conversation
One of the biggest points of attack is your digital presence. Services like Yelp and Facebook, which offer public ratings, are susceptible to attack not only because ratings influence consumer, but because it can be very difficult to recover. Leverage your relationships for large “like” campaigns. Encourage patients, staff and donors to leave positive reviews of your clinic on both Facebook and Yelp. One powerful tool is to create in-house signage reminding visitors to provide reviews and online ratings.
However, reviews offer both positive and negative influence to online viewers. The internet gives a voice to everyone, even those who may have had a bad experience at your center. To prevent this, deliver great service and encourage client feedback, and the positive reviews will eventually correct the false reviews. Respond promptly to negative reviews on all platforms and attempt to move the conversation offline by providing your immediate contact information and inviting them to discuss the issue more in-depth.
Although there is no way to remove bad reviews on Yelp, reviews that are deemed “inappropriate” will be removed, so keep an eye out for reviews that cross the line. False reviews violate both Yelp and Google’s user policy and may be removed if you flag them or contact support explaining why you believe the review is false. However, Google, Yelp and Facebook have no legal obligation to remove a false review.
At Choose Life Marketing, we devote time to help Pregnancy Health Centers reach all audiences, and when the time comes, we are there to meet our client’s marketing and public relations needs.
Call us today to get started.