Customers of Honest Company, which is co-owned by actress Jessica Alba, recently took to Twitter to complain about the firm’s sunscreen. How did Honest Company handle this PR crisis, and did it damage its own reputation in the process?

Online complaints

The Guardian reported that Honest Company customers recently took to social media to complain about the firm’s sunscreen product. Consumers were particularly vocal on Twitter, using the site to post pictures of sunburned body parts that were supposed to be protected by Honest Company’s sunscreen.

This was a potential reputational disaster for the Honest Company. Because of the public nature of social media, the complaints were soon picked up by the press and as Google sees these articles and social media sites as trusted sources of information, you’ll see that when you Google ‘Honest Company’, news of the complaints have risen to the first page of the search, damaging the Alba-fronted business’ reputation online.

Honest Company’s reaction

Honest Company’s reputation hinged on how it reacted to the PR crisis. According to PR Week, the firm reacted both brilliantly and terribly, damaging yet bolstering its reputation online in the process.

The firm initially stood by its product. Honest Company pointed out that the SPF 30 sunscreen passed all of the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) protocols and that only a small number of consumers were complaining. This move was criticised by customers and PR pros alike, forcing Alba to apologise for the product in a touching, personal blog post.

Assessing Alba’s response

The actress’ response both protected and damaged Honest Company’s reputation online. The response itself was personal, with Alba arguing that “we are parents too,” implying that Honest Company understood why parents were angry about the product. This spurred fans of the sunscreen to take to Twitter in defence of the product, allowing the Honest Company to limit the damage to its reputation.

This response protected Honest Company’s reputation online because it was direct and personal.  Research from Maritz and Evolve 24 showed that 83% of Twitter complainants liked or loved it when companies responded to their online complaint directly. Therefore Alba’s response showed that Honest Company cares about its consumers, prompting them to defend the company’s reputation online.

However, the response damaged Honest Company’s reputation online because Alba waited too long to deliver it. Figures collected by Fonolo indicate that 82% of consumers say that the most important factor of effective customer service is having issues resolved quickly. Therefore by waiting, Honest Company gave consumers a bad impression of their customer service, prompting them to air their grievances on social media and damage the firm’s reputation online.

Crisis Management

Alba’s response proved that companies need to take a pro-active approach to crisis management. In other words, you should develop a crisis management plan ahead of time, so that you can implement it when a crisis hits and protect your business’ reputation online. This means that you should:

  • Control quality: If you want to limit the reputational damage of a crisis, you need to do everything you can to prevent one from happening. You should perform regular quality control checks of your product/service, to ensure that your customers have as few reasons to complain online as possible.
  • Set up alerts: You need to know about a crisis as soon as possible to limit its effects. We would suggest you set up Google alerts for your company’s name, so you’ll be informed about any potential crises the minute they break. This will allow you to limit the damage crises wreak on your firm’s online reputation.
  • Develop an online presence: Set up online assets, e.g. blogs, which have been optimised with your company’s name and update them regularly with fresh, relevant content. This will allow your assets to rank on the first page of a Google search for your company’s name, protecting it from the unwanted online content a crisis could generate.
  • Engage consumers: An Edison Research study shows that 45% of people who contact brands on social media expect them to respond in under an hour, proving that when customers talk to you online, they expect you to talk back. These customers follow the example set by those of the Honest Company, and defend your brand online during a crisis.
  • Consider your response: Alba’s empathetic response helped safeguard the Honest Company’s reputation online; if only they’d thought of it before the crisis hit. Your company should consider responses to potential crises ahead of time so that when one strikes, you know which reaction is most likely to protect your company’s reputation online.

Protect your company’s reputation

You should learn from the Honest Company’s victories and mistakes. Develop a pro-active crisis management strategy so that if an unexpected situation hits your business, you have everything you need to ensure it doesn’t damage your firm’s reputation online.

If you want to find out more about Igniyte’s crisis management services please contact Simon Wadsworth on tel: +44 (0) 203 542 8689 or email [email protected] in confidence.