At a time when reputations are built – and sometimes seriously damaged – online, social media is likely to be a focus during any crisis.
A crisis communications situation can present an opportunity for your organisation, allowing you to bolster your reputation through the professional and honest way you handled the crisis. Here is a step-by-step guide to handling a crisis.
Identify a crisis
Any number of scenarios could lead to a crisis that could require a response from your organisation. Make a list of clearly defined crises that could impact the reputation of your organisation. Some of the most common types of crisis include:
- Financial - Financial loss such as announcing a bankruptcy or closure
- Organisational - An act of public misconduct or wrongdoing, e.g. a badly phrased or misrepresentative social media post
- Technological - Technological failure that results in outages causing reduced functionality or functionality loss
- Personnel - Changes to staff that may affect operations or reputation such as employee furloughs or layoffs
- Natural - Natural crisis that necessitates an announcement or change of procedure, e.g. Covid-19 or animal disease outbreak
Assign a spokesperson(s)
If your company makes a mistake, it is important to have a good communicator on hand to come up with an appropriate and effective response. Their actions could influence how stakeholders react to the situation. This spokesperson could be:
- Company executive
- Board member
- Anyone who is best suited to represent the organisation
It would also be useful to have an escalation plan in place. Crises can sometimes be resolved at an individual level by one spokesperson (e.g. company executive), however if the crisis should develop, intervention may be required from a more senior official (CEO, Chairman).
A crisis can occur at any time. While it is sometimes impossible to predict when a crisis might occur, reducing or preventing the effects of a crisis, and controlling it as much as possible, is essential:
- Prepare a statement on behalf of the organisation. Depending on the crisis, this statement should be kept as brief and positive as possible, ensuring that it is also in line with the organisation’s key messages.
- If necessary, make contact with the press before a potential news story develops. Speak to a journalist you have a good relationship with and make them aware of the situation as soon as possible.
- Ensure all members of staff / internal stakeholder are also aware of the situation. Ask them to keep the information confidential if necessary.
Keep an eye on social media
Research indicates that more than half of all consumer complaints are made through social media. Airing concerns via online platforms forces organisations to be more accountable. Just one negative social media post has the capability of going viral and can lead to millions of people developing a negative perception of your company. In the event of a crisis:
- Put together a social media plan to manage negative responses
- Assign more people to monitor your social media channels
- Be sure to respond to any negative posts as quickly and as politely as possible
- Do NOT ignore legitimate complaints or concerns aired on social media
Keep in touch with your stakeholders
Crises don’t always occur in the public domain. They can also occur silently without you knowing, especially if you are not gathering feedback from your clients. Gathering feedback is essential in providing insight about how clients feel about your business and deal with any potential issues before they develop into a crisis. It also gives your clients the opportunity to share negative criticism that you can use to help improve your operations. Questionnaires and surveys are ideal in helping to collate feedback.