Crisis? Use the AAA Framework: Acknowledge, Alleviate, Advance.

Crisis management for startups and executives

Customer crises can easily explode into public relations nightmares. The AAA framework not only helps mitigate consequences, it can transform potential disasters into golden opportunities for deepening customer connections and raising brand awareness.

The AAA framework contains three steps: acknowledge, alleviate, and advance.

  • Acknowledge. Tell the truth plainly, and acknowledge mistakes. Do not spin. Users are not stupid. They can sense spin and disingenuousness, which only undermines your credibility. People can empathize with mistakes and tend to forgive after seeing humility and contrition.
  • Alleviate. After admitting fault, right the wrong ASAP or define a plan for doing so. Most people have higher priorities than complaining about some product, and will gladly move on after you address their grievance. Importantly, the press loves stories about unfairness or exploitation. Offering users a reasonable solution removes this angle and encourages journalists to stop negative coverage.
  • Advance. In subsequent days, march forward and rewrite the headlines by introducing changes and services spurred by the crisis. Accentuate the positive impact and the lessons learned. The deeper the crisis, the brighter the spotlight. Whether the spotlight highlights blemishes or beauty is up to you.

Airbnb, the popular home rental site, faced a dangerous situation in 2011. An unscrupulous user trashed a rented home, resulting in substantial emotional distress and property loss for the homeowner. Instead of letting this incident destroy the startup, Airbnb reacted brilliantly to defuse the firestorm and restore confidence in the renting platform. Specifically, Airbnb rapidly acknowledged fault and apologized. Then they alleviated the problem by compensating the homeowner for damages. Finally, they advanced beyond the story by introducing policies, such as homeowner’s insurance, to boost trust in the ecosystem and protect homeowners from rogue renters.