This post is part of 3Q’s Brand Protection series, in which we tackle a range of issues to help companies safeguard their most important asset: their brand’s reputation. For a full list of posts, click here

Unfortunately, no one is perfect, and that goes for brands and people alike. Whether a business made a bad decision, an employee made a mistake, or company ads were shown on a less than desirable site, dealing with backlash is almost inevitable for businesses today. Addressing customer complaints has always been a focus for businesses, but social media has given the masses a very public voice. What might have been a private email complaint a few years ago is now blasted across the internet in 140 characters, shining a light on mistakes that are often unintentional.

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So how should a brand act and respond when they’re called out online? First and most importantly, you need to act quickly.

In John Braddock’s book A Spy’s Guide to Thinking, he outlines how CIA trained spies were taught to think. The process is known as D-A-D-A and stands for Data, Analysis, Decision, Action.

This model of thinking goes back to a flight instructor for a U.S. Air Force in the 1950s named John Boyd. He began analyzing fighter pilots in dogfights. He examined how they thought and acted and how that process determined who wins. After breaking their thinking into the 4 steps, he discovered something interesting: Whichever pilot goes through the process quickest is the one who usually wins.

In the same way fighter pilots and spies applied the D-A-D-A approach, brands can use it to act quickly when they come under fire online.

Data: The first step is to understand exactly what happened. Trying to get to the facts as quickly as possible often requires going to the source. Specifically, this means asking questions to the aggrieved user and laying out exactly what happened so you can figure out what platforms you use may also be involved. As an example of using this process, let’s assume an ad you’re running accidentally shows up on a controversial site. You’ll want to figure out which ad network the ad was displayed from, which page it was found on, what content was on the ad, and how long it’s been running.

Analysis: This step starts with: “As a result…” Once you have the best data you can get, you need to analyze it. Is this something preventable? Was it a mistake by the platform or was it a mistake in targeting?

Decision: Here is where you say “We will…” After getting the data and understanding it, what do you need to do? In our example, blocking the URL of the site where the ad appeared is the first step. But depending on the situation, it may mean you need to make a more sweeping decision.

Action: Put your decisions into actions.

Once you’ve gone through the D-A-D-A loop, you may still need to respond and communicate with your customers. Here are 2 ways a brand should approach these comments and critiques:

  1. Act QuicklyAs stated above, it’s imperative that a brand acts as quickly as possible. Leaving a critique unanswered can cause bigger problems. However, you need to also avoid answering until you have the data you need. Responding with the wrong information can make a problem even worse. There may be instances where “We’re currently looking into the issue” can help ease tension until you’ve gone through the D-A-D-A loop, but the key here is to act swiftly
  2. Be HonestHiding behind jargon feels safe, but it can often create a sense of false action on the brand’s part. Coming forward, admitting wrong where it applies, and speaking to the decision you made is the best approach to these comments. Address what happened, and then highlight what you’re going to do about it. End with a thank you to people who care so much about your brand and its reputation enough to confront you as well.

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Vernon Johnson
Vernon started at 3Q in August of 2016 with a background in organic and paid social for higher education and direct response advertising. Originally from Madison, WI, he moved to Chicago for school, met his now-wife, Ashley, and settled in. When he’s not optimizing campaigns he’s cycling, brewing craft coffee, or hanging out with his wife and 1-year-old son, Emerson.