We spend a good deal of our life preparing for emergencies – perhaps more than we might realize. We’ve all gone through fire drills…learned the importance of “Stop, Drop, and Roll”…maybe even discussed what we should do if we encounter a bear. The pre-flight safety briefing might go in one ear and out the other, but I would bet most of you have quickly and subtly counted the number of seats to the exit row before turning back to Skymall.
There’s a simple reason for all this: When the emergency comes, we hope to have our response pre-programmed into our heads. This preparedness helps in more than one way. Knowing the action we need to take can save us in an emergency situation, but the preparation helps us to prevent panic and to implement the plan as quickly as possible.
A quick read through the newspaper shows us there is never a shortage of corporate crises relating to the digital world: privacy breaches (Sony, Citigroup), Twitter SNAFUs (Chrysler, Entenmann’s (I forgive you, Entenmann’s!), and just a general speeding up of the normal pace of corporate scandal/bad PR in the digital age. As social media has grown in importance, we have seen many large corporations appoint a specific person to head their social media efforts. It stands to reason that a crisis communication plan would probably be in place for most companies by now as well, right?
Actually, no. In an age where a corporate brand can be instantly devalued by a malicious outsider or a fat-fingered employee, a recent study by Burson-Marsteller shows that only half of business decision makers surveyed had a plan in place to deal with issues arising from digital communications. In a world where negative publicity makes its way around the globe in seconds, it is imperative that a company be able to set a plan in motion – immediately – to deal with a rising crisis.
I’ve been called on several times to advise clients on their crisis communications strategy both during periods of turmoil and as part of a broader preparedness effort. While the details of each plan vary according to the clients’ needs, there are a few core elements that fit most scenarios:
- Know who will comprise the team that will be responsible for dealing with a crisis. Each team member should know their role in advance and have been trained in both traditional and social media.
- Keep up with and understand industry best practices for dealing with issues like privacy breaches and unapproved corporate messaging.
- Technically correct any unauthorized/rogue action.
- Publicly acknowledge the issue, but turn the focus on the positive steps taken by the company to correct the issue, alert impacted customers, and ensure that the problem cannot be repeated.
In a world where unpredictable problems can arise in a flash, no one will ever be able to predict the exact nature of the next crisis. But having an action plan in place can help to limit the damage.
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