Don’t Have a Crisis Communication Plan? You Should.

Every company or organization is vulnerable to crisis. It’s not a matter of if, but when. However, many companies are still not prepared. While 79 percent of businesses believe they’re only 12 months from a potential crisis, only 54 percent have a developed crisis communication plan in place. There is a myriad of reasons why, such as viewing it as a rarely needed document to simply not making it a priority. If you haven’t made it a priority for your company, you should.

The crisis communication plan has been an important public relations tool for a long time, but the advent of social media has forced those plans to evolve. Social media can either help or hurt during a crisis. If you have a plan in place, you can take advantage of this easy way to communicate with your customers.

What Do We Mean by Crisis?

When most people think about a crisis, they usually think big, like a severe weather catastrophe or a private data leak. The reality is that crises come in all shapes and sizes. Maybe your company has made a statement that attracts negative comments on social media. Maybe an employee was involved in an accident while on the clock. Even something as simple as a negative review should have a crisis plan behind it. Crisis communication is designed to protect and defend your company’s brand, your employees’ job security and your reputation when you face these often very public challenges. And not responding may make your customers more likely to believe what they read on the internet, making them harsher critics.

The key is to have a crisis communication plan in place long before anything happens. A comprehensive plan plays out every imaginable crisis scenario and provides a framework for how you will respond.

The Crisis is Here. I Have a Plan. Now What?

1. Be timely.

Social media and online news sources operate in a 24-hour news cycle. Things online move at such a fast pace that waiting too long can allow an issue to get out of hand very quickly. With your plan in place and responses prepared in advance, you can respond quickly.

2. Monitor before, during and after the crisis.

Utilize media monitoring and social listening tools to identify potential crises before they become a crisis. Keeping an eye on social and media conversations allows you more lead time to communicate with your team so they can implement your plan. Also crucial is knowing those reporters and influencers who cover your industry. Follow and engage with them to build a positive relationship before the crisis ever begins.

3. Sometimes the correct response is no response.

While we don’t often advocate for not responding to direct inquiries, we recognize that there are times a response will only make the issue worse – especially on social media. Those predetermined response thresholds that define the issues you don’t respond to must be in your crisis plan.

4. Hot wash every crisis and update the plan.

After every crisis, hold a “hot wash.” Bring your team together and discuss what went right, and perhaps more importantly, what went wrong. Take those key takeaways and implement them into your plan. A crisis communication plan is not meant to sit on a shelf and never evolve.

5. Remember your crisis plan is a guideline.

It’s a documented plan that defines the team, identifies potential crises and outlines responses. Be sure every member of your team is trained on the plan and knows their role. While it is crucial to stick as close to your plan as you can, it’s good to have some flexibility based on the situation at hand.