A short guide to crisis communication

Marta Marta
May 28, 2020 ・ 9 min read

What to do during a crisis? There are many rules you need to follow, but you should pay special attention to crisis communication. This aspect of crisis management is often neglected by managers. But having a crisis communication plan in place will help you mitigate the negative effects of a crisis.

Your company will fac a crisis, sooner or later. Crisis communication plan will protect you from the negative effects of a crisis.

Hopefully, this article will give you a general understanding of crisis communication and will help you come out unscathed from any crisis your brand may face.

Let’s see what’s ahead of us today!

  • What is crisis communication?
  • What is a crisis communication plan?
  • Guide to crisis communication
  • How to make a crisis communication plan?
  • Why is crisis communication important?
  • What is crisis communication?

    Let’s establish the basics first. According to communication scholar, Timothy Coombs, crisis communication is the process of gathering and spreading information you need to address a crisis.

    Crisis communication is a set of clearly set up rules you follow during and after the crisis.

    At this point, let differentiate between a crisis and an incident. Not every situation constitutes a crisis that requires a full-blown response.

    Circling back to Timothy Coombs, a crisis an event you can’t predict that jeopardises the company’s performance and can have a negative impact on its stakeholders.

    A crisis has the potential to seriously harm your company. Crisis can swiftly leak to the outside world and impact your organisation.

    Incident response on the other hand, concerns any internal threats to your company. You don’t have to include your crisis response team, just loop them in, in case the situation gets out of control.

    Crisis communication entails all issues that could negatively impact your brand reputation, for example, HR complaints, product shortages, or litigation.

    To successfully manage your crisis communication you need a crisis communication plan, team, and drill.

    Firstly, we will look at the crisis communication plan.

    What is a crisis communication plan?

    Every good strategy starts with a plan. The same goes for crisis communication strategy.

    A crisis communication plan is a set of rules your business should follow while facing a business crisis.

    Usually, a crisis communication covers three steps:

    • a plan of action for when the crisis hits
    • guidelines on how to communicate with the public
    • steps on how to prevent the crisis from happening again

    Crisis communication plan details the company’s response to crisis. The plan should list the ways in which you will communicate with your stakeholders — your employees, shareholders, customers, general media, and partners.

    A vital part of crisis communication is transparency. You have to make sure every stakeholder is on the same page — knows the state of the affairs and what steps the business is taking to fight the crisis.

    Guide to crisis communication

    For every type of crisis, you should prepare a different crisis communication plan. But there are some common strategies you can implement to any crisis response.

    Let’s take a look!

    Know what people are talking about your brand

    That’s essential for every crisis management plan! You should always know what people are saying about your brand, product, or service.

    How do you monitor your company online?

    First, you can simply enter the name of your brand into a search engine and track what is being said about you. This solution has one big advantage — it’s free.

    Unfortunately, there are more drawbacks and the biggest one is that you might miss a mention that will escalate into a crisis.

    Monitoring by hand also takes a lot of time and doesn’t offer any kind of analytics.

    A solution here is a dedicated brand monitoring tool, for example, Brand24.

    A media monitoring tool will collect all publicly available mentions containing your predefined keyword. You can monitor the name of your brand, your branded hashtag, campaign-specific hashtag or anything else that is connected with your brand.

    Brand24 collects mentions from:

    • social media channels (including TikTok and Twitch)
    • news
    • videos (for example, YouTube or Vimeo)
    • podcasts
    • public newsletters
    • forums
    • blogs

    From that moment on, the tool will collect and analyse publicly available mentions containing your chosen keyword.

    There are other features useful for crisis communication. I can add at least two more.

    First, Brand24 offers state-of-the-art sentiment analysis.

    print screen of a online mention that should be part of your crisis communication plan

    Media monitoring tool analyses the tone of the online mention. Then, it assigns a category to the mention. It can be either positive, negative, or neutral.

    Sentiment analysis can do wonders to crisis communication plan. This feature allows you to spot any threats to your company’s reputation and react before the crisis escalates.

    That brings us to the second point — alerts. To protect your brand reputation you need to know about any threats right away.

    That’s where alerts come in handy.

    Brand24 offers three types of alerts

    • email notifications and storm alers
    • Slack notifications
    • in-app messages.

    You can choose the method of communication that suits your needs the most. Once you identify an issue, you can implement the rest of your crisis communication plan.

    Try it yourself! Brand24 offers a 14-day free trial, no credit card required!

    Designate a spokesperson

    You need a person responsible for communication with the stakeholders. The spokesperson can your CEO, PR manager, or anyone who can deal with though questions and works well under pressure.

    The person you choose should be able to communicate well with others. Their presence will influence how your company is perceived during a crisis, so it’s important you choose someone who is likeable.

    A spokesperson will be a face representing your business. He or she will make it appear human. This method will help people relate more to your brand.

    Prepare for crisis

    Bad news is a crisis will hit your company. Good news is, you can prepare for it by doing proactive damage control.

    Besides having a crisis communication plan in place, you can do a lot more to minimise the effects of a crisis. Every action you take, falls under damage control.

    The preparation can start from small things, for example, implementing an antivirus program on company’s computers. You can train your employees about new regulations and security protocols.

    Small steps will determine whether you will survive a crisis. Damage control is one of them.

    One of the best ways to prevent crisis escalation is to build a loyal community around your brand. When a crisis hits, the community can help you survive. This audience will believe you and voluntarily spread your story.

    Start small

    You don’t have to involve your CEO in every crisis. Most crises will be solved by your dedicated team.

    Your customer service team can handle many cases effectively. They are specialists in their field and know what to do best. Only involve the C-level in the worst-case scenarios.

    Remember about social media

    Social media is a huge channel for many companies. Yet it is ignored by many.

    Remember to include social media in your crisis communication plan. You can do it in two ways.

    First, social media gives you a unique opportunity to communicate directly with your stakeholders. You can keep everyone interested in the topic up-to-date.

    Secondly, monitoring social media channels will help you monitor the online chatter about your brand. Social media monitoring will help you control the message and nip all negative information in the bud.

    print screen showing social media KPI you should monitor while preparing a crisis communication plan

    Don’t forget about social media channels while managing your crisis communication.

    Listen to your customers

    Not every crisis is front page news. But every crisis can negatively impact your bottom line.

    Listening closely to your customers complaints can affect your KPI, for example, sales levels or churn. Many people will give you insights on what to improve and how to develop your product. Your job is to look for the insights and decide whether to include them in your product development or not.

    You can use media monitoring to look for suggestions left online.

    print screen showing a suggestion made by customer you can look for while preparing a crisis communication plan

    Or you can talk to your customers. Asking them questions about the experience with your brand is a goldmine of knowledge.

    How to make a crisis communication plan?

    Now that you’re familiar with crisis communication strategy, let’s take a closer look on what exactly a crisis communication plan entails.

    1. Define the objective of the plan

    Before you list the stakeholders and draft press releases, think about the goal of your crisis communication plan. Setting a goal will ensure that every step of the plan aligns with it.

    The main objective of a crisis communication is to develop a communication structure for internal and external stakeholders. The communication plan should be implemented in time of crisis threatens the normal functions of an organisation.

    2. Name the stakeholders

    On other words — who are you writing for? Who needs to be informed about the situation in your company?

    Usually, the list includes employees, shareholders, customers, partners, investors, media outlets, and general public.

    General public involves social media followers who would like to be update about the developments in your situation.

    3. Create a chain of command

    Once a member of your company spots a potential threat, he needs to know what to do. That’s where chain of command comes in handy.

    A hierarchy of information will assure that the crisis is addressed quickly. This gives you a chance to fight it before it all hits the fan.

    The order depends on the structure of your company. In flat structure organisations, you can go directly to your CEO. When you work in a hierarchical structure, you should probably go to your supervisor first.

    A crisis communication plan should indicate what information should be disclosed to each party. What is the source of the crisis? What are the details? What are the possible ramifications for the company?

    4. Fight rumours

    Rumours can ruin the best crisis response. Have a fact sheet ready, so that every stakeholder can check what is true and what is not.

    Remember, that time is of the essence. The sooner you prepare a fact sheet, the better.

    5. Train for the crisis

    A crisis will hit and once it does you might feel overwhelmed by the amount of information you have to process and the number of decisions you need to make.

    But you can put a drill in place and train for the most common scenarios. That way, you will make sure that everybody knows what they are doing and will not be caught off guard.

    6. Prepare answers

    Once a crisis hits, your spokesperson will have to answers a ton of questions. Some of the queries will repeat itself.

    To save time and energy, prepare an answer sheet. Questions that you will be asked might include, “What are you doing to mitigate the effects of the crisis”.

    7. Expect unexpected

    You can do everything right and still come across unexpected set of events. The goal of a crisis communication plan is to minimise the damage.

    But even the best communication plan can backfire. You have to expect that not everything will go smoothly and be mentally prepared for every possible scenario.

    8. Remember about communication on social media

    Social media offers two ways of communication. You have to both respond to queries and offer you side of the story.

    Firstly, messages shared by your company on social media will be picked by your followers and media outlets. You have to draft the messages carefully. Otherwise, the recipients will suspect you’re hiding the true scale of the crisis.

    Another part of social media crisis communication is social monitoring. Once you spot negative mentions, you can react and mitigate the spread of the information. Social media crisis management should be a part of crisis communication plan.

    Why is crisis communication important?

    Crisis communication is a vital part of your crisis management strategy. Preparing a crisis communication plan will help you manage the crisis and protect your brand reputation.

    The process is long and involves a lot of resources but it will pay off. Crisis communication plan can protect your business during turbulent times.

    Top 10 brand monitoring tools
    What is brand reputation management?