If crisis management were a meme it would look a lot like this:
Before 2020, it would appear that crisis management planning was a lot simpler – plan ahead, say “I’m sorry”, maybe give customers a discount or two, and move on. Today, crisis management planning is a lot more complicated. When executed well, your company will survive, but when done poorly it can be disastrous to the public perception and negatively impact the bottom line.
Knowing what to do, what to say, and how is only half the battle. Taking lessons from this year, here is how your brand can reinvent its crisis management plan.
Set the right tone with employees
Employees are just as critical to shaping external perceptions as much as customers, vendors, and partners are. Before communicating outside the company, set the right tone internally and arm employees with the facts. Better yet, give them clear direction on what to do, say, or not do during a crisis. You want your employees aligned with your crisis management plan and equipped to handle tricky situations such as press inquiries, social media, or questions from customers.
Make sure that every employee from the C-Suite to the janitorial staff, has a clear understanding of what to do and how to communicate internally and externally before addressing the public.
Source Social Media
Social media is one of the most powerful tools you can use to spread information and gather others around your cause. Your organization’s social media strategy should therefore be a part of a crisis management plan – one that takes into account who will take over the social channels to disseminate information to the public, provide up-to-date information, and respond to the community in a thoughtful, professional way.
Social media is a tricky channel to navigate in a crisis because of its real-time, 24/7 communication cycle. Yet, it’s one of the most important communication tools in your brand’s arsenal during a crisis.
Target’s 2013 security breach is a perfect example of what can happen when social media channels are ignored during a crisis. When its IT systems were hacked, Target issued a statement the next day before informing officials of the size and scope of the breach. The company also posted a message to its website from the CEO, which did not attract much attention because angry consumers had taken to social media instead. The retail giant missed the mark by neglecting to communicate directly with consumers on the platform(s) they engage with most. Target’s mishandling of the crisis created a lot more confusion, criticism, and distrust outside the organization.
Do not make the mistake of passing off social media posting to an inexperienced employee with no crisis management experience. Social media channels are scrutinized during a scandal and it behooves your company to appoint strategic leaders that will guide the conversations on social, post accordingly, and effectively engage with reporters, customers, and even the trolls.
Empower the right spokespeople and lead the way – quickly!
Every crisis management plan should include a small handful of seasoned spokespeople available to speak to press and the public during a crisis quickly and effectively. That list can include the CEO, an experienced media relations professional, and sometimes a subject matter expert.
As we saw with Facebook during the 2018 data scandal story, empowering leaders with accurate information is just as critical as the timing of the response. Facebook failed at both. The company responded to the allegations five days after the news broke. Meanwhile, the leadership team went radio silent while stocks nosedived and the hashtag #DeleteFacebook started trending.
One can speculate that Facebook was simply trying to do its own internal investigation before responding, but this provided more damaging to Mark Zuckerberg and the company’s reputation.
Your spokespeople are powerful leaders and people are looking to them for truth, accuracy, and leadership in a crisis. Avoid the power plays and internal politics as that can create more confusion and hurt public perception of your brand.
Your company’s ‘Survival Guide’ is everything
It’s no secret that planning ahead is the most important aspect of crisis management. This is your company’s “Survival Guide” and should be updated each year.
In today’s environment, your crisis response plan should include scenarios for every possible scenario from security breaches, to scandals, to a pandemic, even an active shooter situation. (Yes, really). Navigating a crisis is not for the faint of heart, but once you’re out of survival mode, your company and people will be that much stronger.