No one is immune to a crisis. If you think that your company is exceptional and your employees would never do something to endanger the firm, then I’m afraid you’re wrong. It only takes one rough employee (just as Starbucks’s case proved recently) or one misjudged ad (like Pepsi showed us last year) to create a storm. If you’re well prepared you can still exit the crisis successfully or, in the most optimistic scenario, gain some capital.
A bulletproof crisis management plan should, therefore, be an essential part of your business strategy. Prepare to fail or fail to prepare, as some wise man once said (it was allegedly Benjamin Franklin, but you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet). Creating strategy ad hoc or entering the crisis without one is reckless, and might even endanger your business continuity. Trying to come up with a great plan when everybody is firing at you is an impossible task. Planning is key to survival.
Here’s a comprehensive list of crisis response tactics. It’s an excellent way to start building your crisis response unit so you when the storm hits, you know how to navigate your ship to calm waters.
Fast and Absolutely Not Furious
React fast before it all hits the fan. The sooner you de-escalate the problem, the less damage it’ll cause. Risk management is all about minimising the impact of harmful events, so you should get on top of things quickly.
Media monitoring tools, like Brand24, offer a lot of useful features. In crisis management, one of the most helpful is storm alert notification. You’ll receive a notification (it can be an email or a message on Slack, whatever you prefer) every time there’s unusual traffic around your keywords. That way, in the event of a crisis, you can intervene in time and prevent significant setback.
If you’re still investigating the cause of the incident, try to prepare a simple press release. Avoid at all cost assigning blame to any party. It will leave a wrong impression, no matter whether it was your fault or not.
Decide Who Is in Charge
Your plan should name precisely employees responsible for communication response plan. The plan must contain a detailed division of responsibilities as well as name the head of crisis intervention. Every tweet, post and message have to be approved before it’s published. The clear chain of command will make your communication consistent, and you’ll avoid overlapping or contradicting information.
The spokesperson should be the most experienced member of your team. He or she will ideally be a skilled PR manager, who has the know-how required while dealing with the press. So no stutter and panic in the eyes, just the opposite, he/she has to be the personalisation of the calm in the centre of the chaos.
Crisis management team is your first response unit, a critical factor in your professional crisis management. Their primary purpose is to control the narrative in the early stages of the crisis. That way, even if the crisis is entirely your fault, you’ll be able to focus the attention on your actions and remedies you’re offering rather than on the cause of all the commotion.
Reassure Your Stake and Shareholders
Apart from dealing with the press, you need people scanning through contact list and informing your VIP clients and stockholders about the development of the situation. Reassuring your stake- and shareholders will prevent escalation of the crisis, so this task should be one on the top of your list.
Even if you don’t have a detailed press release or external communication plan, reassuring your partners should be your top priority. The last thing you want is your investors leaving the company in a hurry, deepening the impasse.
Remember About Social Media
It’s hard to imagine, but there are still companies neglecting social media presence. Even if you can get away with it (although you’re missing out a lot because your brand is lost without social media customer service!) during calm times when the crisis hits you need to be present on all fronts.
The information spread through social media much faster than via traditional outlets, so it’s vital to react swiftly. And if you want to do that, you need to monitor Internet mentions well in advance. Brand24 allows you to identify most active and most influential sites on which people are talking about your company. That way, you can customise your response and focus on the channels where your audience is present.
Social media gives you an opportunity to engage directly with your customers, deliver exactly the message you want. In the early stages of the crisis, it’s a good idea to stop publishing planned posts and re-evaluate communication planning. But you can’t keep silent for long, as it will only deepen crisis behaviour. Your customers expect a reaction and delivering well-thought-out response is essential.
If your crisis management system is to be successful, you have to update it regularly. I’m a firm believer in maintaining a high level of preparedness, and there’s no better way to achieve it than by regular training.
To work efficiently and effectively your team members needs coaching of both hard and soft competencies. Crises require creativity and adaptability, and those skills aren’t a God-given gift, they can be taught. Thanks to the training, when the disaster strikes, every step you take won’t be continuous self-injury but a carefully calculated rescue mission.
It’s extremely tough to keep calm among continuous aggression. That’s why it’s vital to keep every member of your crew well informed and stick to the plan. You’ll avoid going off message and show a unified front.
Learn From The Mistakes of Others
There’s no better way to learn than analyse mistakes made by other companies. I mean, if they learned something the hard way, why should you? If you’re looking for a comprehensive guide to mistakes to avoid, we got your covered. Here’s a list of 12 avoidable social media mistakes, a.k.a. “The dirty dozen”.
Crisis Management in Real Life
So how does crisis management look like in real life? Let’s take a look at Starbucks and their response to the crisis that occurred in the begin of April in Philadelphia. A quick recap – two African Americans went to a coffee house for a business meeting and ended up being arrested after one of the employees called the cops.
Professor Americus Reed of Wharton Business School identified three best practices for managing brand crises:
- Validate concerns of other people. Even if you’re still verifying the facts of the case, show empathy and regret.
- Act. Starbucks CEO, Kevin Johnson, engaged and directed the conversation around the incident. The focal point of the discussion was shifted from the event towards socially responsive movement – a closure of 8 000 company-owned stores for an afternoon to hold “racial-bias” training. A proper apology requires some sacrifice, and this move could cost the company 12 million dollars, according to Jeff Sonnenfeld, dean at Yale’s School of Management.
- Control the narrative. Offer strong statements accompanied by actions. Kevin Johnson met with the two men who were arrested, offered an unconditional apology and sought the help of community leaders in reshaping the company’s future policies.
And although Starbucks was criticised for their first response (many experts claimed it was too short and generic), Kevin Johnson stepped into action in the early stages of the critical situation and from many crisis scenarios chose the best option – damage control. It’s an entirely different approach than other famous CEO took. Just look at recent fallouts at Facebook – it took Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg 5 days to react. Last year United Airlines’ crisis was called one of the worst PR disasters, and you could immediately see the results in the fall of their share prices.
The most important lesson from other companies’ failures should be that your crisis management team have to be prepared for anything. And even if your initial response is far from ideal, you still got some time to turn the tables around. And who knows, maybe you’ll be one of the lucky few, and the crisis will never hit.
I’d love to know what you think about this article! Do you have any tips and tricks up your sleeve?