Although fire drills may seem more distracting and counterproductive than helpful, organizations may need to apply the concept of fire drills to their social media and online plans. You may not ever need to implement the fire drill procedure, but it’s better to have an online crisis communication plan in place.
Through social media, a single comment, video, or even tweet can spread like wildfire. Without timely and relevant responses, distrust and negative sentiment for your brand can quickly develop. Still not convinced? Check out these two examples on United Breaks Guitars and Motrin Moms to see how fast negative comments can escalate out of a brand’s control.
Here’s our 8 tips to help you build and manage a PR crisis plan.
1. Set goals
Talk with your executives to develop a reasonable and measurable goal of the program. Is it to change online sentiment, show transparency, or minimize negative repercussions? Writing out this the goal of the online crisis communication plan also helps to ensure you and your executives are on the same page. Be sure to keep the fundamentals of crisis preparation in mind and don’t assume you won’t use an online platform. Just because your brand isn’t on an online platform doesn’t mean people won’t be talking about your brand online. So be sure to secure your brand’s username, Twitter handle or YouTube channel before someone else does.
2. Identify the crisis type
Understanding the type and level of crisis can help you respond accordingly. There are two basic crisis types: forseeable or abrupt.
- Forseeable: By identifying possible crisis scenarios, internal stakeholders are able to own the original messaging and prepare how they want to respond to the circumstances depending on the level of urgency. This helps relieve some of the pressure your team may face when a crisis occurs and provides direction on the expectations of your stakeholders. For example, your team may be expected respond immediately or prepare an official company statement through a press release, media alerts, or other announcement.
- Abrupt: When an unexpected crisis occurs, the messaging originates from an external source. Examples include but are not limited to an inflammatory blog post or tweet, slanderous campaigns by word-of-mouth or online, the spreading of misinformation or anything else that attacks the brand or key stakeholders.
3. Establish open and honest relationships before a crisis
As a public relations professional, you want to establish positive relationships with your media contacts before a crisis strikes. “If I don’t have a relationship with you prior to a crisis, I’m not going to build one during a crisis,” said Joyner. Reporters are more willing and flexible when working with contacts who have already taken the time to cultivate an open and honest relationship.
4. Have a plan and follow through the steps
You can never be prepared for a specific crisis to strike at an exact time, but you can be prepared with the tools needed to properly address the crisis. During a crisis response, Joyner advised examining the following questions in order: 1) Who’s in charge? 2) What’s being done right now? and 3) Who’s responsible? Companies should pay particular attention to question three and acknowledge the disastrous implications of the inability to admit fault.
5. Develop a social media policy
Educate employees as to what is appropriate and inappropriate communication via social networks. Because reporters monitor employees’ personal Twitter and Facebook accounts to follow conversations, it is imperative that employees do not share confidential information on social media sites. Employees should be advised to not publicly disclose sensitive information online while fully understanding the liabilities for not staying tight-lipped.
6. Manage employees and appoint the most seasoned professionals to act as spokespeople
When a crisis hits, it is important to manage employee relations first and get the most senior person in your office as soon as possible. The larger the disaster, the more experienced the reporter will be who is assigned to cover the story; therefore, it is crucial that only the most knowledgeable within the company are designated as spokespeople.
Once you’ve identified the crisis type, outline immediate and ongoing tactics in a logical timeline. Be sure to assign activities to positions/individuals and include time increments. Then, activate your crisis communication plan. Even more critical, your online response within the first 24 hours can make, or break, the success of your plan.
8. Be as transparent as possible throughout the crisis
“Be as transparent with your communication team as you would be with your legal team,” said McCaskill. Most importantly, as a spokesperson, be aware that saying, “No Comment” is often perceived by the public as an admission of guilt. Rather than refusing to comment, try to educate the public as much as possible while avoiding sensitive information that cannot be shared, especially for legal reasons. The more open you are about why you cannot share particular information, the more positively you will be perceived by the media and the public. As Sweigart said, “If you have nothing to hide, show them everything.”
Next, keep in mind that proactive outreach prior to a crisis can help you build loyal brand ambassadors. For example, third-party sources who are “defending” your brand and redirecting to the proper source on your website can be just as effective, if not more, than a corporate response.
Now that you’ve got the basics on how to create an online crisis plan, your next step is to get that crisis plan in front of your boss. For more online crisis communication essentials, be sure to check out Arketi’s next blog post on what you’ll need in your social media toolbox.