Be prepared for crises
At the very core of crisis management is the fact that all businesses, no matter how well-managed, can and will be impacted by crises at some point. Because of this, it is crucial to put yourself in a position to both prevent and react to damaging situations before things get hot. In a recent article about the impact of real-time communication on crisis management, PR expert Bill McLaughlin gave a list that will help you jump start your defense:
- If you don’t already have a blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook channel in place, get one and get it fast.
- Start listening. See who is talking about you, your products or your customers. Assess their influence and reach out to them.
- Create a crisis communications team. Your head of communications should lead it. Representatives from human resources, sales, customer support, legal, investor relations and executive management should be on the team.
- Create a playbook. Set up a contact procedure and an issue escalation process for when it’s necessary to convene the team.
- Identify potential types of crisis and rank their impact factors. For example, unhappy customers blogging about your products, interruptions in service, closing of offices and dismissal of employees, lawsuits filed by competitors or government agencies, and so forth.
- Assign primary spokespersons responsible for handling the issues.
- Respond quickly. Don’t let things fester. Make a statement, even if it’s as open ended as we’re aware of the problem and are in touch with the parties involved and will get back to you with an answer as soon as as we can.
- Don’t let the lawyers dictate everything. In crisis, there is a natural tendency to rely on their advice to minimize legal exposure. This is a wise thing to do, but not at the expense of saying nothing.
- Develop your position and communicate it through all the channels you have at your disposal — web site, press release, blog, Twitter, Facebook, conference calls, and so on.
- Monitor the reactions, modify your message and respond as needed.
As you can see, social media continues to play a large role in the way we handle crises and communicate. If you’re not at least familiar with the big three (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) then the deck is stacked against you, and if your company doesn’t have an active blog then you’re really in trouble. If you want to maximize the value of these platforms, create a precedent of posting valuable information so that when the public goes searching for answers they will look to you first.
For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management
[Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. , an international crisis management consultancy, and author of Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training.]