The secret to modern crisis response success

Don’t just muddle through when disaster strikes your organization. Here are some tips to come back stronger than ever.

Modern crisis response

A reputational crisis is not a matter of if, but when

Crunch these numbers: Deloitte’s Global’s crisis management survey found that nearly 60% of the 500 respondents believe that organizations face more crises today than they did 10 years ago, yet only 17% of those organizations are truly prepared. The survey revealed conspicuous gaps between an organization’s response confidence versus their level of preparedness.

About one-quarter (26%) of marketing and PR pros have crisis plans that have not been reviewed in over a year, according to a joint study by PR News and Crisp, a crisis monitoring firm.

What’s more, most crisis management plans don’t account for the speed of social media. The international law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer reported that it takes organizations 21 hours to deploy a legally approved external response. You don’t have that much time anymore.

Simply put, at some point in your career, you’ll find your organization in crisis mode. 

If you’re really good, you will not only have a plan before the need to execute it, but will also have established the groundwork in advance. It still might not be enough.

The world has moved on from environmental scanning and rote empathy responses as key constructs of the mediation team. Don’t risk letting your crisis management program become outdated and archaic. 

As you update your response blueprints for 21st-century crisis management, keep these six areas in mind:

1. Prioritize your internal stakeholders. Far too often organizations focus their energy on the external forces causing the crisis that they forget to address how their staff is handling the issue. People internalize crises: “How does this affect me?” Crises trigger insecurity and fear, yet employees are usually the last audience to be addressed during or after a crisis—and sometimes not at all. Acknowledge what your own people might be going through; you’ll probably need their help in managing the situation.

2. Monitor social media. Key tabs on all channels, beyond Facebook and Twitter. International sites such as Wechat and Weibo can afford insights as to how organizations must consider shareholder and stakeholder relations. Even if you aren’t familiar with a channel, that doesn’t mean it’s not being used to host negative and damaging information about your organization. Similarly, watching trends unfold on channels like Reddit can offer insights and afford you a proactive means to handle a crisis. 

3. Emphasize diverse representation. Consider who is at the table, and who isn’t represented at all. It’s never been clearer that homogenous groups create mistakes that heterogeneous groups would not. Surrounding yourself with people that look like you, think like you, and make decisions like you is a fatal flaw of governance and of business leadership. If you want to consider all perspectives and solve problems better, then clear a spot at the table for a multitude of perspectives, and craft a strategy that is inclusive instead of exclusive. Making choices in a vacuum can add additional insult to the injury that has occurred. Work smarter. 

4. Align the official response with the severity of the crisis. With social media fueling the fire, a response centered on one communication channel simply will not work. Today’s digitally driven environment calls for more. In addition to standard video responses, a dedicated website where stakeholders can find answers to their questions, in-person discussions, messages via the organization’s social media pages and text messages, try using technology such as AlertMedia, Firechat, Bridgefy and even IT solutions such as Everbridge.

5. Capitalize on strengths. If your organization’s spokesperson lacks social presence or comes off as unsympathetic, mechanical or aloof, find the right person to represent your organization—or find a channel where they thrive. The last thing you want to do is compromise your response strategy because your spokesperson is being publicly criticized. 

6. Identify your “new normal.” Prepare and communicate for life after the crisis. There is no such thing as going back to “normal. The status your organization held prior to the crisis no longer exists. Given that, prepare your internal and external stakeholders for the next phase. Outline what the organization has learned, what’s going to change, and how these changes affect not only employees but the organization itself. Even if the crisis is over, that doesn’t mean the work is. The toughest work is only just beginning.

Adrienne A. Wallace  is an assistant professor in advertising/public relations at Grand Valley State University. Regina Luttrell is an assistant professor of public relations/social media and the interim director of the graduate program of PR at Syracuse University. 

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