If you have ever watched the film The Queen, you may reflect that depending on your bias, you will view Queen Elizabeth's actions, at the time of Diana's death differently.
On one hand you could appreciate that her role was to look after her 2 grand children. Why would she subject them to media intrusion in London? Being in the highlands gave the boys time to grieve with their family in peace.
On the other hand, you may feel that the Royal family's grief should be in public, as their job should be about consoling the public. That her absence was a mark of disrespect.
As the film shows once the Queen explained her priority was the boys, the public stepped back and realised how selfish they had been. However, could the days of pressure from the press to return to London have been quashed by an earlier statement? Very likely - yes. On day one, a statement asking for 5 days of private morning for the boys with family, would be have understood.
The never complain and never explain tactic, backfired. Over time we reflect back and many appreciate her actions were right, but the optics where not.
Applying this to business
In the above example, there are a few things to note:
1. Bias - if people see you negatively to start with, they will always look for faults.
2. Lack of empathy - you might be doing the right thing for your business and team, but not everyone has the ability to put themselves in your shoes.
3. Time - not all people just have the time or inclination to research the fact. Linked to point 1 they will read from sources that are not going to be impartial.
4. Knowledge - never assume people understand your business or the industry you are in. They won't always have the knowledge to 'know what you mean'. Avoid coming across as arrogant about your intelligence.
5. Don't ignore a communication channel - you might feel you don't need to be on social media, but best to make sure you hear what others are saying to make sure you can stay ahead of negative feedback. Back in 1997 the channel being ignore was doing a TV statement to the nation, early on.
It is a harsh truth, but we live in a world with so much noise and opinion bullies. It can be a minefield to navigate no matter how good your intensions.
So how to navigate?
You have to appreciate there is no consistency regarding education and knowledge. Cooking and DIY for example were common skills 30 years ago. Yet today, many people just don't know were their food comes from or how to change a plug.
Therefore, you have to be very mindful of your customers knowledge. If you specialise in fishing tackle, your existing customers won't need things explained to them.
However, if you want to attract a new generation of customers you will need to think about how they will interpreted your messaging. Too technical in your terminology - will put them off. Too simplistic and your existing customers will think you are patronising them.
Therefore as per point one below - identity the groups you have to communicate with via a range of channels.
This might seam very time consuming, but the effort wasted fixing misunderstandings and the cost of lost customers will make this worth your while. Set a side an hour or two and create a simple grid.
Break down the customer groups and note a few important attributes about each group. Then note their preferred communication chancels - radio ads, magazines, website, social media platforms, mailing lists etc.
This can all be in bullet points in a simple spreadsheet. Then think about your external groups - shareholders, board members, suppliers, retailers etc.
You can off course as you grow outsource this. But before you get to this point, be aware of the groups your business speaks to.
Point 2 is also very easy to manage. People have greater connectivity than at any time in history. 40 years ago a memo would take a few days, even weeks to filter through the rumour mill. Now it is minutes.
So before any announcements, make sure your team know about it and more importantly - why. That way, they are equipped to tackle feedback and not come across as unprepared to outsiders. Also be open to your teams feedback. They might point out factors you never considered before making an important announcement.
The rest of the checklist diagram I hope is fairly self-explanatory. It is a general starter for 10, as there will be privacy issues and nuances with some businesses that need further thought. But even then, there are ways to spin the optics. Never say, 'its best you don't know' for example. You are setting off alarm bells in some minds. Those who are more paranoid will create all sorts of rumours:)
If in doubt, when writing a statement or an email, stop, walk away for 30 mins and read again - cold. If you can, get a trusted person to read. You might have the kindest of intensions, but the use of one word can mean something very different. This can be very much an issue if selling into a new territory.
Amazon recently made a huge mistake launching a Swedish site without actually get a Swedish person to check it. They had the wrong flag (seriously, had they not heard of Google:)), several grammatical issues and clearly was words put through a computer translator.
What does that say to the market? - We are a billion dollar company too cheap to hire a local person to review. The optics of their lack of judgement did not go down well.
The whack-a-mole of dealing with misinterpretation, people taking offence for no reason etc, is exasperated by social media. It is very easy for someone to take part of a piece of text and twist it. Or certain groups to twist the meaning of words without discussing with the major of people, who accept the current meaning.
You can never be 100% perfect with your communications, but having a strategy to minimise misinterpretation, helps you to manage optics to lessen the drama and reputational damage.
I will leave you with a great Mark Twain quote:
“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”