The phrase “24/7 news cycle” feels cliché at this point, doesn’t it? It’s no longer a novel issue but a way of life. Tweets go live seconds after an incident happens – sometimes even before a company realizes what’s occurred. Before they know it, it spreads like wildfire and spirals into a full blown crisis.
That’s why it’s more important than ever for brands to have a crisis communications plan in place that fits the nature of today’s media environment. They need to be ready to roll the second something happens or else risk losing control of the narrative. (And unlike Taylor Swift, we don’t all have the luxury of asking to be excluded from a narrative we don’t like.) It’s simply unacceptable be silent as you scramble to get a strategy together while everyone else in the world is talking about a situation concerning your brand.
Here are a few examples of the steps you can take before a crisis hits to be more prepared if one does.
- Establish roles & responsibilities. As you begin to map out your crisis communications plan, it will be important to assign roles and responsibilities to key players in your plan. Who will be in charge of crafting a statement? Who will man the social media channels? Who will share accurate information with the media? Who will disseminate information to employees? Not knowing these roles ahead of time can create a chaotic environment should a crisis hits – especially if you’re scrambling to decide who will do what. By the time you figure it out, chances are everyone will be wondering what’s taking so long – or worse, multiple people might take charge of the same responsibility which is not only inefficient but can come off as sloppy. Depending on what types of crises your company might run into, you should make sure everyone knows what their job is should disaster strike. This expands beyond your direct communications team and into any other team that may need to be involved (IT, the C-Suite, etc.)
- Plan for every scenario. Anticipate the major crises that could hit your company. That can be anything from a widespread device malfunction, a disgruntled customer that takes their complaint viral or something extreme as death. Build out a step-by-step approach for handling each type of possible situation. How will you release an initial response? How often will you provide updates? That doesn’t mean something completely unexpected won’t hit one day, but there’s a good chance strategies for your other scenarios can be applied to it. The goal result is that you have a template approach for possible crises that can be applied as soon as something happens.
- Be expert monitors. Having all the plans in the world in place won’t make a difference if you fail to notice something went wrong in a timely fashion. As I noted at the start of this blog, it’s no longer acceptable to be fielding a sea of crickets when a crisis hits. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to a brand’s social media channels to see their response to something happening and been greeted with nothing. I’m forced to look elsewhere for details. You need to be the one responding & handing out accurate information. To do that – you need to be ready when an incident occurs. If you have a social media team, they’re likely in the know about monitoring tools that allow you to not only follow mentions of your company but also any other keywords or hashtags you want to track. For example, if you’re anticipating fallout from an upcoming an announcement, you can start monitoring for buzz before it happens. Someone should be monitoring social chatter all throughout the day to catch anything before it explodes.
Time is of the essence in today’s always-on news cycle. Not only do you need to be ahead of a crisis when it happens, but you need to have a firm plan in place to continue to share up-to-date information – or else risk others sharing misinformation on your behalf. By preparing as much as you can in advance, you can help deal with an incident from the second it happens and stay in control of the message.