7 March 2012 by Jamie Cwalinski
Have you emptied your Y2K “war room” yet?
Remember not too long ago when the looming threat of the Y2K computer failures had people around the world designating a safety locale and filling it with dried food, water and medical supplies to protect against the possible doom (think Southern snowstorm on steroids)? It seems silly now, but people wanted to ensure they were prepared to survive the uncertain conditions if the world’s computers crashed.
Of course, the world did not end at midnight on January 1, 2000, and those Y2K “war rooms” instead became safe havens for the junk you do not want your friends to see. But at the end of the day, those individuals who took those steps did so with a well thought-out, ready-made, “this may not happen, but if it does, we need to be secure” plan.
In much the same manner, PR professionals face the looming threat of a “Y2K” every day. While some client misfortune can be anticipated, the levels of impact resulting from a damaging incident will vary. And, as much as we’d like to think otherwise, we can’t foresee everything that could go wrong for our clients, their customers, and/or their brands…especially given today’s instant-reaction, online news cycle.
According to social media expert Sarah Evans (@prSarahEvans), the lifecycle of an online crisis depends heavily on how the first hour is managed. As a result, proactive social media tactics should be a focal point of any crisis communications strategy.
As Evans outlined in a recent PRSA Georgia presentation, PR professionals should consider these social media essentials as the food, water and medical supplies for your “Y2SM war room.” While your clients may not experience such a catastrophe, it is better to have a thought-out plan and never need it than to need a thought-out plan and never have it.
Don’t Get Locked Out
Be sure to maintain a login list for all of your client’s social media accounts and save it in a central, easy-to-access location. Should an event take place, you can’t afford to waste time tracking down your client contacts or communications colleagues for the password you can’t seem to remember. Likewise, be sure to update this list should you add separate pages/accounts, or change the user name or password.
Determine What’s ReTweetable
Effective crisis management now requires your team to condense your message into 140 characters or less. Prepare to quickly develop a headline specifically for Twitter that relays what you want to say at all stages of the crisis (even if as simple as “Stay tuned for more…”), but keep it short enough that your audience can reTweet it. Likewise, your team should create a list of Twitter handles for relevant media, stakeholders, customers and bloggers, enabling you to quickly see who is saying what about your brand and communicate directly and quickly.
Depending on the nature of your brand, your team may also want to consider establishing a separate Twitter account specifically for news updates surrounding the event, to direct followers easily to one location separate from the brand’s day-to-day (for example, @XYZcorpRecall).
Show your Face
Online video can become the most versatile and powerful tool in your arsenal during a crisis. Beyond the seamless integration with social networks, video sites can provide a real-time identity for your company and its executives that creates a connection exceeding faceless words in a printed statement.
If you haven’t already done so, set up a YouTube channel for your client, and ensure you have tools on hand (whether traditional video recording equipment, or a direct, computer-based program such as MailVu) to easily create and upload videos to both that channel and your website. Also, be sure that your company spokesperson is comfortable being on camera and can convey your message clearly.
Ultimately, by giving your team the chance to correct misinformation and engage directly with your audience, a 30-second video could make the difference in combating a developing situation from escalating in the media.
Add an Ad
When interested consumers use search engines to learn more about your company’s situation, a sound advertising strategy can ensure your messaging is the first link they click.
Evaluate now what the costs and specifications are to secure ad space, either through direct purchase or a pay-per-click program, with major search engines and websites your audience will likely visit for additional details.
Likewise, plan to leverage social media outlets, including Facebook ads and Twitter sponsored trending topics, to capture the attention of visitors perusing popular sites for information.
Regardless of whether your company’s crisis is abrupt or foreseeable, your team can take several steps now that will minimize the damage of the situation…while also saving you a potentially large headache.
While you may not need everything you store in your supply closet, proper planning can save you from sweating it out as the clock draws closer to midnight.