How can you manage and survive a crisis? Start with these four basic yet indispensable tips:
1. Define your tipping point. Understand what an emerging crisis looks like for your brand. In these times, if you are in business and have access to the internet, chances are good that you’ve had at least one negative tweet or bad review. Though the first one may seem like an emerging crisis, it probably isn’t.
Review your data to determine your “normal” (daily or weekly average) level of criticism, undesirable posts and negative sentiment. If you’ve already been through a crisis or two, take note of how quickly early situations escalated. If you’re a crisis virgin, then look at a competitor or a peer organization.
If you have a social listening or media monitoring system set up, it should automatically alert you when you exceed those “normal” levels. If you’re doing your monitoring manually, keep track of the number and frequency of negative stories or comments. When they exceed your baseline, it might be time to dust off your crisis plan.
2. Have a crisis plan. Rehearse and update it every six months. If you just thought to yourself “What crisis communications plan?” then drop everything and write one.
There are lots of great examples out there. What is key is that you know whom to contact, and what your information chain is. Your plan and the chain of command and communications will likely vary depending on whether you are the victim in the crisis (e.g., a natural disaster or workplace shooting) vs. whether the crisis is self-inflicted (e.g., human error, scansis, or management misconduct). Once your plan is in place, don’t let it collect dust. Conduct crisis drills every six months, and update the names and roles as needed.
3. Monitor everything. It is no longer sufficient to monitor mainstream media and a handful of social media platforms. Rumors—false or otherwise—can start anywhere, so make sure you are monitoring sites such as NextDoor, GlassDoor, Reddit and Yelp.
Pay particular attention to local platforms and media outlets. That’s probably where your employees are getting information—and possibly disseminating it.
4. Don’t let your organization be foolish. Use your position to advocate for smarter behavior. Push your organization to be more transparent and demonstrate trustworthiness. In an era where everyone is skeptical of institutions, chances are your words won’t be believed. Which is why you need to rely on action to get your messages across, not just a video or a press release.
Katie Delahaye Paine is the CEO of Paine Publishing and publisher of The Measurement Advisor.
This piece is part of Ragan’s Crisis Communications Guidebook, 2020 Edition. Get your copy of the full book here.