A crisis can come even when least expected. An internal employee accidentally tweets on the company account. A disgruntled associate takes private information public. A video goes viral at an inopportune time. One customer’s complaint snowballs into a wave of negative feedback from followers.
Are you prepared? In the rapid network of communication and social media, all businesses are at risk for a PR disaster to strike. No matter your company’s size, if you don’t have a crisis communications plan, a small spark could spread like wildfire and damage the reputation of your brand.
We want all businesses to be successful in managing, monitoring and mediating their social media channels, and this means being prepared for an “attack.” I’d like to provide you with a checklist for your Crisis Communications Go-Bag. After reading this, you and your company will be ready to hit the ground running with a calm and collected approach when the alarm sounds.
- Have a monitoring system in place. Ensure your team is properly trained with specific and appropriate listening tools. Know how to assess situations as they arise.
- Maintain a listening schedule. How often are you monitoring your channels? The last thing you want is to wake up Monday morning to a crisis already out of control.
- Define what constitutes a crisis. As each business has its own culture, it is important to know what kind of commentary should raise a red flag. It may be helpful to provide a list of characteristics for the staff, so they know what will and will not require action.
- Know who will respond to the crisis. Designate an online spokesperson for the company that is well versed in your brand goals and business methodology. This person must be able to maintain a professional composure while keeping personal emotions out of the situation. I still remember my CPR training; the first step of taking action was to designate an individual, point at them, and say “YOU, go call 911!” Situations go from bad to worse when no one’s in charge and everyone’s left wondering what their role should be.
- Utilize your company’s brainpower. You have an amazing team of professionals at your disposal: use their knowledge! Gather information that helps you take action appropriately. Don’t just shop around for opinions, seek the information that will enable you to change the situation.
- Respond quickly and appropriately. Acknowledge the problem. Show the public that you are listening. Even if you’re still gathering information from your specialists, don’t just sit around planning to solve the dilemma later. Respond first on the channel where the issue took place. If applicable, cover your ground and post your crisis communication solution on every channel you manage, even those you don’t generally use.
- Notify employees immediately and keep them updated during the process. Every crisis, no matter how prepared you are, is a unique educational opportunity for the company.
- Notify stakeholders immediately and keep them updated during the process. Crossing your fingers that they won’t find out is a risk. You wouldn’t want them to hear about the crisis from an outside source. It’s probably better to be upfront and honest: let them know that you are aware of and handling the situation with care and urgency. They will appreciate your loyalty.
- Know what you are going to say. Have a strategic plan. Each crisis is unique. Just like one builds a content calendar, build a resource list for crises. Have examples of how to respond accordingly (gauged by the magnitude of the situation), and have a contact list handy designating those individuals who will offer valuable information for specific topic.
- Know when to take it offline. If the situation is unable to be tempered or a customer is getting inappropriate, request that they call or email. Direct conversation can be the easiest way to get to the heart of a misunderstanding.
- Make sure everyone in your company is aware of your crisis communication policies and protocol.
- Practice your execution like a fire drill to make sure it works well.
- Humanize your response. Be sincere and sympathetic in your messaging and state what you are doing to fix the problem.
- Turn off your automatic Twitter and Facebook postings. An out-of-context post by your team in the middle of a crisis could make your company even more vulnerable.
- Be personal and direct. Don’t shut your channels down out of fear. Respond to every comment made so that it is clear your team is active and engaged with the situation. If this involves specific people or companies, be sure you are reaching out to them–use @mentions on Twitter and @tag people on Facebook. This includes thanking customers who stand up and show their loyalty to your business!
- Listen to what your competition is saying. What’s happening on your competing brand’s channels? How are they handling it? What can you do to turn those conversations and sentiments around?
- Though the hype has calmed down, your job isn’t over. Reach out to your stakeholders and make sure there were no repercussions you are unaware of.
- Assess your team’s execution. How did your plan do? Make notes and debrief so everyone is in the loop and necessary changes are made to your protocol.
- Document everything! Keep a record of all your channels’ posts and activity. Make copies of email correspondence. And don’t forget to analyze your website and SoMe traffic patterns for changes in activity.
It’s important to remember that a horrible situation handled correctly has the potential to turn into something positive for the business. This could be an opportunity to gain fans and increase customer advocacy. The situation may provide valuable user-generated content that your company could leverage. It’s also a great way to show a face behind the name and let people know their happiness is your priority.
Get your Go-Bag ready so you can sleep calmly, knowing that your business is prepared to handle any crisis.
What are your crisis stories and how have you learned from them?