Knowledge Is Key For Crisis Comms: Shark Week Case Study, Part 2

Miss the intro to this Shark Week crisis comms series? Read it here before moving on to part 2.

G.W.’s vegan donut shop is suffering from a crisis as a result of the negative media attention around sharks during Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. Luckily, G.W. has fin here before – and knows just what to do to combat this shark attack.

Before the attack

Create a plan

Whether a brand has experience with controversial news or has yet to meet a crisis comms challenge, having a communications plan in place in advance of a potential incident is a must. Determining a plan of action amidst a cascading and unforgivably quick news cycle only adds to the chaos – be prepared.

G.W. recognizes the potential controversy Shark Week could stir up for his business, and knows he needs to bring on a PR team to build an actionable plan before the situation gets him into deep water. Most importantly, the team must make sure the plan works by running a mock simulation of a crisis comms scenario (when time allows) to identify holes that need patching in advance of actual execution.

Determine what you know

While time is of the essence in any crisis comms situation, taking a moment to comprehend the issue at hand is imperative. Before activating a speaking bench or hitting the phones to contact media friendlies, you need to understand what and how the situation needs to be addressed. Brands that are too quick to pull the trigger – usually via social media – often get caught in a riptide of negative backlash.

crisis communications plan
Google and TalkWalker Alerts ensure your team is able to stay on top of breaking news as it happens.

G.W.’s team should arm themselves with the proper media monitoring tools to help cull coverage and track the conversation, enabling the execution team to react to course changes in real-time. They should set up Google or Talkwalker Alerts for terms related to G.W., his brand and his community well before a crisis hits. While the situation is unfolding, these tools can be used to monitor its trajectory – which will help anticipate other potential concerns and allow the crisis team to develop the most comprehensive and effective approach.

Know thy allies

Once a crisis hits, it’s unlikely that it will disappear or be drowned out by other breaking news. Social media, while a powerful channel to promote inspiring stories, can be a deadly microphone for bad news. As such, G.W. needs time to debrief his team, sharing anything and everything, from company history and team background to any prior media relationships or conflicts.

Speaking of media relationships, it’s important to know who’s on your side during a crisis. G.W. can tap into the relationships his PR team has built and identify reporters who are willing to listen and communicate the truth.

Before reporters are on the hook

Companies battling a crisis comms issue will be shot with rapid-fire questions from reporters hoping to fluster the CEO. If you’re not prepared, you may wind up being steamrolled, or worse — saying something you’ll regret.

Even if G.W. is great with phone interviews, he may not be as collected on TV, Facebook Live or other broadcast channels. We recommend G.W. bring in his PR team to practice recorded interviews. This gives him an opportunity to run through tough situations on camera and play it back instantly to find out how to better revise his responses and prepare for the next interview.

His team can provide media techniques and broadcast tips to keep him on his A game, no matter the situation. For example, G.W. can combat reporters who ask leading questions with bridging techniques like, “While that may be a fascinating point, the heart of the issue is…” to bring the conversation back to the message he wants to convey.

Crisis Strikes

Analyze the land(sea)scape

As soon as the crisis hits, it’s critical to assess what people are saying about it. As mentioned in part 1 of this series, G.W.’s team can use Google Trends to monitor for increased consumer interest in subjects that could be bad for business. This, coupled with the Google/Talkwalker Alerts mentioned above, will ensure his team can start combating the negativity ASAP.

crisis communications plan
Sysomos is a tool that can be used to track online discussions around specific terms and phrases associated with the crisis.

Sysomos is a tool that can be used to track online discussions around specific terms and phrases associated with the crisis. The platform scours social media, news sites and forums for mentions of these words, which can be exported for further analysis. Another data source G.W.’s team could use during Shark Week is CrowdTangle, a social media monitoring program. With CrowdTangle, you can create a list of publications and industry social media pages, then export the posts from the crisis timeframe.

Assess chatter sentiment

In additional to what is being said, it’s equally important to assess how people are talking about you and your community. If you’re a SHIFT client – and luckily G.W. is – you have access to our proprietary social listening tool which can determine how many times a piece of coverage has been shared on each social media platform. You can use this data to prioritize platforms in your crisis comms plan, and to get a better idea of where your target audience is most active. Additionally, it evaluates the tone of each article so you can keep track of media contacts who are on your side, and those that aren’t.

From there, we would recommend also using Watson’s Natural Language Understanding software from IBM Watson to analyze the tone of social media posts around the crisis. Sort your CrowdTangle export by engagement, then feed the contents of the most engaged social media posts into the software to determine how people are talking about these topics.

Control the message

Now that G.W. and his team have identified the issue(s), determined a plan of attack and lined up their talking heads, it’s time to polish the message that’s going to put out the fire. This is the opportunity to combat consumer suspicion by meeting the crisis head-on with facts, honesty and clarity.

Leveraging the above-mentioned research tools, craft messaging that addresses the concerns people are talking about most. Be clear and sincere about your brand’s position on the given issue – with a significant portion of Americans consuming news via social media, one wrong turn and you’re the next unfortunate trending hashtag.  

Throughout the crisis cycle, be consistent with your brand message and offer consumers resolve through transparency and setting future expectations. Most importantly, recognize when it’s time to apologize and take ownership over a mistake – never underestimate the power of a sincere “I’m sorry.”

Knowledge is key to the foundation of any crisis comms scenario. Often in a crisis, people fill in gaps of knowledge with their own suspicions. By keeping your fin on the pulse of the situation and providing accurate information, you’re able to snuff out the rumors before they spin out of control and before you know it, you’ll find yourself back safe on land.

Stay tuned for part 3, speed…

Stephanie Chan, Natalie Colli & Casey Egan



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