5 Tips for Crisis Communications

In today’s world, news and information moves at lightning speed. Thanks to social media and digital news outlets, content surrounding your brand can go viral in a matter of hours. While that content could be a heartwarming video of an employee at your company, it could also be a horrendous example of customer service. And while we all would like to hope it’s the former, it’s best to prepare for the latter – or more specifically, prepare for a crisis.

Crises surrounding your organization’s personnel are just one example of crises to prepare for, but there are a lot more to consider, too. Whether it be a technological, financial, organizational or natural crisis, it’s vital to ensure your brand has a comprehensive crisis communications strategy in place – and one that addresses both public relations and social media.

Here are five tips to ensure your crisis communications strategy has you covered:

1. Implement a crisis communications plan.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do is have a detailed plan in place. This is the doctrine for your organization to abide by if a crisis arises. If you don’t already have one in place or anyone internally who is experienced in creating one, consider hiring an agency to help with this.

Some examples of what your plan should include are: a contact sheet with key players outlined and their roles, a plan for internal communications, a social media policy, a list of what types of crises your brand may encounter and a specific plan on how to handle each type, sample statements and messages to communicate for each type of crisis and each type of outlet. And that’s just at a minimum. Remember, the more in-depth your plan is, the better.

2. Identify a crisis response team.

You can have the most in-depth and well-rounded crisis plan, but if no one in your organization is familiar with it, it’s useless. Take the time to identify the key players in your organization who can be considered your crisis response team. Then, make sure each person on your team is  assigned and understands their role. Do you have a large organization of hundreds or thousands? Consider having multiple teams that you can enable depending on the severity of the crisis. If you have a team of maybe 10 or 15, you’ll likely have nearly everyone at least slightly involved in case it’s an all-hands-on-deck situation.

3. Train your team and practice your plan.

After you’ve identified your team, train them. Walk through your crisis communication plan from start to finish. Appoint your spokesperson(s) and prep them on how to handle media. Make sure everyone knows the chain of command and how to manage their role. Act out how you would respond in different scenarios. Review case studies of how other similar brands have successfully or unsuccessfully managed crises and what you would or wouldn’t have done in their situation. Your team should feel confident in handling each type of crisis your brand may encounter after their training.

4. Be proactive and aware of possible crises.

While some crises will pop up out of nowhere, you may be able to see some coming. This is why having a thoroughly built-out communications plan that addresses different types of crises is vital. Natural disasters – and especially ones you can see coming such as hurricanes – are something that are more or less handled the same way continuously. This allows you to have thorough templates, guidelines and responses built out in advance, and to be proactive in handling the crisis.

Monitoring mentions of your brand in the news and especially on social media can help alert you of anything that is negative. It might be as simple as engaging with an upset customer on social media, taking the conversation offline and working on a solution together. Left unnoticed, the customer might become more aggravated and take their complaints more publicly online, or even reach out to a news station.

Stay tuned to your competitors and industry too. While the news or events surrounding your competitor or industry may not affect you yet, if there is chance it could eventually, you can start creating a plan on how to handle in advance.

5. Continue to build upon and update your plan.

Any time you have a crisis, document it. Use it as your own case study that becomes a part of your crisis communication plan. You can either use it as a learning tool or a template in case you have another similar crisis in the future.

Just like anything else, crisis plans can become outdated. Make sure everything is up to date in your plan from your key players and their contacts, to your social media policy or drafted statements.

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