Published by Andrew Noll at March 29, 2016
In most corporate planning, employees create plans to account for short-term and long-term goals. You’ll find projections of company profits and plans for getting there, but it’s rare to find a company that is truly prepared for a crisis.
How do I prepare for something if I don’t even know what it is?
There are many reasons to plan for a crisis, but it can be difficult when it hasn’t happened yet. The size of a company will come into play in determining the types of crises to expect. Multinational corporations, for instance, may need crisis plans for every type of natural disaster.
In addition to planning for natural disasters, companies now have to prepare for social media crises and PR nightmares. These can come on quite suddenly and can be improved or made worse by the way the situation is handled. We’ll provide you with the basics to start a Social Media crisis plan, just read on!
How Do You Identify What Happened?First, you must identify that your company is, in fact, experiencing a crisis. If it affects your ability to carry on daily operations or consumes a lot of time for management, it may be considered a crisis. It is extremely important if it will impact your triple bottom-line, brand image or goodwill. You have to make your own definitions of a company crisis so that you can sound the alarm early on and properly allocate resources to quickly deal with the problem.
Generally, social media crises start small with individual voices of dissent or disagreement. It is important that they are caught in the early stages before things grow out of control. Many times, media outlets will pick up on trending stories and this can result in more damaging events than those that stay out of the press.
A recent social media crisis that was resolved well was experienced by performer Justin Bieber. The crisis developed around #JustinHatesHisFans on Twitter and has been around since 2010. On November 7th last year, the hashtag went viral when Justin became upset about fans clapping off-rhythm. Entertainment outlets started discussing whether Justin hated his fans or not and it can still be seen all over the internet. Justin did not reply on his Twitter feed and just continued with his usual routine.
By not addressing the issue, it remained as a source of controversy and benefited the singer in sales. Unfortunately, most companies do not bode well with drama and negative publicity can follow a company or brand for years. In addition, most companies require a deliberate and planned response to crises, as controversy isn’t beneficial in most industries. How can you avoid letting the bad seeds grow? How do you snuff out the root cause of a social media crisis?
Common Issues for SM CrisesDue to the expansive nature of social media, crises can blow up in a couple of hours. You can expect negative comments and publicity, as well as wasted company time and crisis resource allocation. You don’t want to detract from what’s making money, because then the whole company will start shrinking. It is important to account for the possible interruptions you may face as the result of a crisis and find ways to allow your business to continue running.
Spokesperson And Brand VoiceWhen there is a crisis, who should deal with it? You need someone on the front lines that is ready to represent your company in a positive light immediately, using the tone of voice that is appropriate for the situation. You want your spokesperson to be aligned with company views and knowledgeable in methods of reducing the impact of negative PR.
Don’t Be Afraid To Acknowledge A MistakeThere could have been an issue with management, or the company may have done nothing wrong at all. If it can help reduce the intensity of a crisis, it is worthwhile to apologize. Your reaction will need to be tailored to the situation. If something happened to trigger a negative emotional reaction then you will want to address that feeling.
For Instance, let’s say that I’m going out for lunch today and I found a fly in my salad. Regardless of where it came from, why it’s there, or anything else – that is disgusting. Companies need to apologize in instances such as this and they should be sympathetic while doing so. A crisis leader in this hypothetical situation might say “It disgusts me that this happened. We are sorry for our customers and we will make initiatives to resolve this issue immediately; this kind of thing is not tolerated at YummyGreatYum Foods.”
Communicate Quickly and DirectlyIf you catch a crisis before it blows up – is it still a crisis? Possibly, but it’s not worth debating. It’s not worth the risk and if your corporate crisis plan catches minor issues, then they should be dealt with to prevent additional stakeholders from entering debate and inciting public outcry. The earlier a crisis is found the more easily it can be resolved. At its inception, it is easier to discuss a crisis; the crisis will become defined over time and the information posted first is most likely to be viewed, recycled, and re-posted. Therefore, you have more control over how a crisis is interpreted at onset.
In addition, it is also important to be direct in approaching a crisis. If you are going to make attempts to side-step or avoid the issue, be sure you address it in an active manner. Passive attempts at avoiding crises, only lead to more problems. Just like with personal issues, if something is ignored or avoided it will continue to leave lingering feelings. It is the same with social media crises, but on a much larger scale with many more players involved. Be sure you are speaking directly to your consumer or the key crisis stakeholders.
Express Company ValuesAlways explain the company stance on a crisis and justify it with company values. Your company values represent your brand and do so in a positive manner. They were created to lead the growth of the company and stay relevant unless they are replaced.
In the aforementioned, hypothetical example a crisis leader might say the following regarding company values: “YummyGreatYum Foods has always had a high standard for food quality and believes that all food should be suitable for our CEOs. We will identify and terminate anyone responsible for this incident. It goes against our company value of absolute food quality and demands immediate repercussions for any employees involved.”
Find A Practical SolutionWhen things start to unravel and there are disputes over your brand, is there an easy solution? I know, reading it spelled out like this makes it sound highly unlikely, but sometimes the answer to our problems is simple. Other times it requires cleaning the gulf of Mexico, or other high difficulty tasks.
One example of a crisis with a practical solution was Apple’s release of the original iPhone. At first the phone was pre-released for purchase at $599 before being reduced to $399 after three months of sales. Early adopters were angry with the price drop and Apple resolved the problem by providing $100 vouchers.
If you’re like me you would still be angry because $200 > $100 and you’d be $100 short of those that purchased phones 3 months later, but this still managed to resolve the issue as customers wanted to be acknowledged. They felt valued with the vouchers and the issue was resolved in the press.
Offer Contact OptionsAllow social media followers to contact you elsewhere. You don’t want everything to be public and it reduces your risk by taking the conversation offline. You can offer an email, contact form, phone number or other method of contact when a crisis occurs to give customers an easier method to be heard and avoid controversy. Listen to your customers and look for ways to get to the heart of the problem. Why are they upset enough to discuss our brand in this manner and how can we help them?
What is Company PolicyCrisis planning and management should include contingency plans to keep business running, identification of the primary crisis manager, clear definition of brand voice and a plan of action for how to deal with a crisis. Make sure your plan is approved by management and takes the different aspects of crisis planning and management into account.
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