Though we like to always be prepared, a crisis can arise at any moment. Suddenly your company’s reputation is at stake, and how you communicate during this period is critical.
Social media has blessed (and cursed) us with a 24/7 news cycle, and managing a crisis is no longer a simple task. Hundreds of people, with no prior relationship to your company, could suddenly begin attacking from all angles, leaving you defenseless. Every crisis will be unique, but here are a few steps you can take to help you weather the storm.
BEFORE THE CRISIS
Establish a team.
Your crisis communications team should include senior-level executives or leaders, communications professionals, and legal counsel. These team members will be responsible for managing the crisis, making decisions, and potentially serving as spokespeople. While having a variety of opinions can be beneficial, you do not want an extremely large team. Too many decision-makers can slow down the process, and speed is critical during a crisis.
Proactively prepare, prepare, prepare.
As a team, think through every potential crisis that could arise. This can range from mass layoffs to an on-site work accident. Then, create template responses and action plans for each scenario. You can tailor these as needed should an actual crisis arise, and it will be helpful to have a starting point.
It’s important that you communicate positive news about your company and cultivate a strong internal culture before a crisis hits. Establish a positive reputation in the community; it can lessen the blow when negative news begins to spread. And if you have happy, loyal employees, they will be willing to stand beside you and serve as positive brand ambassadors.
DURING THE CRISIS
Businesses are more accessible than ever, and customers expect responses almost immediately. Even if you don’t have all the answers and are trying to asses the situation with your team, you have to respond quickly. If you don’t, customers may think don’t care and may become angry.
In addition, if you don’t respond fast enough, you open the door for others to craft the story for you. And they may not have your company’s best interests in mind. Remember, your first message will set the tone for all subsequent messages – you only get one chance to get it right.
Halt additional forms of marketing and/or promotions.
This may include unrelated social media posts, digital ads, and public relations efforts. Sending out additional messages while your company is under scrutiny could be perceived as insensitive.
Remain calm and assess the situation.
Stress will be at an all-time high during a crisis, but it is important that you stay calm and make thoughtful decisions. Assess the situation with your crisis communications team and think critically about every step you take. You may need to answer news media questions, craft social media replies or respond to any perceived victims. All fingers are pointed at you during a crisis, so make sure your responses are compassionate and understanding. No matter who is at fault, this is no time for arrogance. And it is okay to accept responsibility and apologize.
Keep your internal team in the loop.
Depending on the size of your company, this could be as simple as calling everyone into the conference room or setting up frequent calls to inform team members. Your employees will unintentionally serve as spokespeople in their personal networks. It’s essential for them to understand the situation AND believe the company has their best interests at heart. Unhappy team members may use this as an opportunity to cast a negative light on your business.
AFTER THE CRISIS
Do what you said you would do.
If you made any promises during the crisis, make sure you follow through with them — even after your company is out of the spotlight. This includes investigative efforts, new protocols, or compensation.
Analyze what happened.
Though dealing with a crisis is never ideal, navigating one will teach you and your team valuable lessons. Sit down with your crisis communications team and discuss how you handled the situation. Be transparent and honest and admit where things could have been gone better. This will help for any future crises.
Keep employees informed.
Employees are your most valuable asset, so don’t leave them wondering how it all ended. Be transparent and share all the necessary details with them. Let the team know what the company learned from the incident and how it will improve in the future.
Crisis situations are never ideal, but when handled well, they can be an opportunity for improvement. Having a plan in place and a supportive team will help you communicate quickly and confidently.
Need help with crisis communication planning? We can help!