Plan to extinguish your next PR crisis

Crises are inevitable, but they don’t have to be fatal to your brand’s reputation. Proper planning is essential.

Whether your organization is killing it on social media or getting by with a minimal online presence, having a pre-baked crisis communication plan should be part of your comms DNA.

A PR News/Nasdaq survey says nearly half of all organizations are operating without a crisis communications plan. However, with the combination of mobile devices, the social saturation of markets and our always-on 24/7 culture, even the smallest organizations are vulnerable to a crisis in the public eye.

Unless you’re sitting on a United Airlines flight sipping a Pepsi, you can’t say you weren’t warned.

Get to know your social media team.

Too often organizations ignore the potential impact of their social media presence until it’s too late. Social media, though, is where the latest news is broadcast. Take a proactive approach to partnering with your social media team. Sooner or later you will be working together, and collaboration is always more productive when your hair isn’t on fire.

There’s no better time than the present to take advantage of your team’s knowledge, listening tools, social data, customer insights and boots-on-the-ground interaction with your customers. Making friends with the social media team now will help you later if (and when) a crisis starts to flicker—or catches fire.

Proactive planning is essential.

Few of us do our best work when the pressure is on. When stakes are high, communication can quickly break down. Teams are more likely to do good work when they have a solid history of collaboration.

Get clear on your communication strategy and operational priorities before a crisis hits. Naming the individuals who will be actively engaged (along with alternates) should be a top task, along with defining the what and how of your response plan.

Outlining and updating a communication strategy ahead of time is much easier than creating one while you’re in the trenches. By making a habit of syncing with the team on a regular basis, you’ll have a better chance of being at the top of your game when a crisis hits.

Don’t put your holding statement on hold.

Once you’ve defined your approach to handling crises, building a messaging framework is crucial.

The first order of business will be crafting a holding statement that’s in line with your organization’s values statement. Just like an emergency kit that you keep in case of tornadoes, hurricanes, floods or fires, your best bet is having a virtual “bag” (file) ready to go before you need it.

When you’re faced with a crisis, ensuring that key stakeholders are ready to deliver key messages is vital. Provide your PR, C-suite and social teams with pre-approved messaging so they can face journalists, your community and the public. Having your holding statement(s) ready will assist with damage control and give you a foothold on owning the narrative.

If you consult with your social media team throughout, it will be able to speak to what resonates with—or gets rejected by—your audience. Doing the work ahead of time and having sample holding statements ready can buy vital time at a crucial moment. You’ll stay on point, consistently aligned with your brand values.

Work with your entire team.

Crisis communications is a process that requires teamwork across the organization. Stakeholders can make or break a crisis response. Getting buy-in from throughout your organization will help you to manage your response. Sync with the C-suite early by coming in prepared. If leaders need convincing, you’re better off knowing in advance where they stand with social media and high stakes.

Approach crisis communications as a collaborative effort while you have the luxury of low-stakes teamwork. Don’t wait until your brand is getting dragged through the mud on Twitter.

A version of this post first appeared on Meltwater’s blog.

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