It is likely that, at some point, any company will experience a crisis – product recalls, employee misconduct, actions by disgruntled customers or data breaches among them. An efficient and coordinated approach to communicate with internal and external stakeholders is the best way to stabilize and prevent additional fallout. When accomplished successfully, a crisis communication strategy can proactively and professionally help operations return to normalcy and mitigate damage to a public reputation.
How to Define a Crisis
First, it’s important to define what a crisis could look like in your particular business and industry. Essentially, a crisis is a significant threat to your operations or public reputation. It’s often unpredictable, and with social media especially, can develop quickly. Here are a few indicators to watch out for:
- Repeated and negative online sentiment
- An event outside of normal operation that begins to escalate
- Irrational behavior from disgruntled employees or customers
An effective communication team understands what a crisis looks like and how to respond appropriately.
Planning Ahead in Case of Crisis
Having a prepared plan for staff and spokespersons can offer peace of mind in the case of a crisis. Thus, the best crisis communication strategies are proactive, whenever possible. This ensures there are messaging frameworks and processes in place before a crisis occurs.
A solid crisis communication plan requires close monitoring of the discourse surrounding your company. Negative comments about your company can flourish online and in social networks. Avoid being caught off-guard; it is important to assess whether a negative comment could develop into a crisis so your company can respond accordingly.
Operational plans, while imperative in the case of a natural disaster or other dangerous situation, often don’t go beyond ensuring everyone is physically safe. An effective crisis communication strategy goes further by implementing safeguards and clear direction well ahead of time — no matter what the situation is.
The Pre-Crisis Groundwork
Having a pre-crisis groundwork is critical. This preparation might include:
- Developing a crisis response plan – A thoughtful response plan provides clear directions for the company’s public relations professionals and spokespersons in the event of a crisis. For instance, how are communication roles defined in the chain of the command? What methods and avenues are used to communicate key messages? How will the company monitor coverage and public sentiment? It is best to revisit the response plan annually and update it accordingly.
- Identifying key stakeholders – Determine who will be most affected by a company crisis and tailor your messaging to their needs. Keep in mind that different audiences might need different information. Plan how to most effectively be in contact with these various audiences.
- Drafting statements – Having prepared written statements, such as emails, website banners or social media copy, can be extremely helpful and save time if a crisis occurs. Written statements should get to the point, avoid jargon and provide solution-oriented pathways forward. All public statements should be consistent, confident, transparent and truthful in their messaging.
Preparation and Prevention
Proactively developing a crisis communication plan can help tame the turmoil associated with a company crisis. With excellent preparation, transparency and honesty, companies are able to rebound from even the most difficult situations. At any successful organization’s core is good communication; in these instances, a confident and strategic communications team is the company’s best asset.