Man the barricades: 8 ways to respond to a crisis

Before you raise the drawbridge and start pouring boiling oil over the castle walls, look around. The barbarians have already broken through. Here’s how to respond, says a digital expert.

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The old days of being able to ignore the armies of trolls beyond the walls of your organization are gone.

“There’s a massive hole in the castle wall, and anyone out there can come in hurt your brand and leave and be OK with it,” says Peter LaMotte, senior vice president and chair of digital practice at LEVICK.

The good news: Brand threats are preventable if you set down a specific plan, review it on a regular basis, and hold your people accountable for it.

LaMotte, who helps organizations weather major crises-and emerge the stronger for it-has these tips for dealing with the storms that every brand has to face at one time or another:

1. Plan in advance who will respond.

Your hot-headed CEO may not be the best face of your organization. When a Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway train derailed in a deadly accident, the CEO thought he was doing the right thing when he rushed to the crash site in Quebec, LaMotte says. But there was a problem.

“What this CEO started doing,” LaMotte says, “is blaming the local firemen, blaming the people that worked for the company, and basically going off-script—and even blaming the media for making up stories, when, in fact … they had video clips of him saying things that he would then deny.”

Plan far in advance who will respond and how you will shape your message.

2. Monitor not only trolls, but allies.

Do you think the White House social media team monitors only the GOP and They also keep an eye on the left, says LaMotte says. It might even be more important to know when your allies are restive.

Besides, though the Internet is full of grumblers, “it’s also filled with your biggest brand advocates, your best clients, and, honestly, your greatest defenders,” LaMotte says.

Cultivate those friends.

3. Keep an eye on related social media accounts.

Carnival, the cruise ship company, has had a series of crises at sea. During one of them, 3,100 passengers were stranded at sea on a powerless ship with flooding sewage and no air conditioning, prompting folks to sleep in the halls. Carnival’s CEO, who was also part owner of the NBA’s Miami Heat, took to Twitter to blithely remind fans that tickets were available for an upcoming game.

“There are people literally stuck on a boat floating in the ocean with overflowing toilets,” LaMotte says, “and the representation of that brand is basically sending out tweets about how great the basketball team is doing.”

It wasn’t a Carnival message, but it sure didn’t help.

4. Pay attention to hashtags.

One naïve Instagram user posts an adorable picture of his kid eating SpaghettiOs. Another couple pins photos of their own kid’s face smeared with those saucy pasta ringlets, but uses hashtags. Whom do you take more seriously?

Correct. Hashtags extend the influence and shares—and that means a response may be in order when a hashtag-wielding troll starts hammering you. If your troll is howling alone in his lair, ignore him.

“Pay attention to who is the more savvy social media user simply looking for hashtags,” LaMotte says.

5. Watch for themes.

It’s a customer service issue when one guy tweets, “I hate you: My cable just went out.” When the messages spread across thousands of social media users, you have a crisis.

“You need to decide whether you have a major problem on hand, or whether you’re talking about just a customer service issue,” LaMotte says.

6. Monitor the right keywords.

Don’t ask us. It’s your industry. What other keywords should you be watching for besides your organization’s name?

“You know better than anyone what that fire is going to be,” LaMotte says. “You know where the vulnerabilities are. If you don’t know where those vulnerabilities are, you need to be talking to your general counsel, because they know where those vulnerabilities are.”

7. Learn from your crisis.

So you survived your crisis without a trip to the bankruptcy court? Congratulations. Now learn from it.

Have you discovered different terms and influencers you should be monitoring? Can you track when people tweet about your organization without mentioning the name?

8. Use content to rebrand.

Before its 2010 oil spill, BP’s content tended to stress productivity and innovation, LaMotte says. Since the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, the emphasis has shifted to the environment, helping rebuild, and safety measures. They are using content to address ill will that the crisis engendered.

Not to be glib about your mental duress during all those late nights fending off the media, but the opportunity to rebrand can be the silver lining of a crisis.

Says LaMotte: “Make sure you tailor the content that you are creating to address the stigma that has been attached to your business.”


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