Solid piece by John Bell over at Digital Influence on the relatively new and ever evolving PR discipline of digital crisis management this week. This is pretty timely as I keep running into PR departments and firms just now starting to get comfortable with the notion:
It’s almost a joke amongst communication pros. The first step isn’t the YouTube video response. It isn’t evaluating whether the Twitter uproar is gaining velocity or dying out. It isn’t even pulling your comms team together for a crisis meeting internally to figure out what to do. The first step is, of course, preparing for the crisis before it ever happens.
Bingo. John goes on to list a simple 4-step plan to get your organization (or client’s organization) up and running:
1. Get a Listening post program in place immediately. If you are not listening to your public across the entire Social Web – blogs, Twitter, Social networks, opinion and review sites – then you are at risk.
2. Get the C-suite smart about social media as a communications phenomena and channel. Any significant crisis is going to bubble up to the CEO of President to make decisions. Sure, s/he will look for advice from the VP of Communications, legal teams and more but that CEO will want to make their own decision. If she doesn’t understand the power of the social Web, then s/he may make a bad decision.
John suggests creating a training session specifically designed for the top executives, setting up an RSS feed for them and reviewing it weekly (showing them how to add and remove feeds on their own won’t hurt), and inviting them to your regular Social Media training sessions and discussions.
Great advice. PR and Social Media shouldn’t be treated by executives as some distant dominion of legal and coms. Today more than ever, executives need to learn to take ownership of this particular skillset, particularly CEOs. Business leaders are expected to comment and intervene in times of crisis, and waiting until the proverbial fit hits the shan to get a C-suite exec ramped up on all of this is ill-advised, to say the least. Start a program now, make it digestible and convenient, and plan to help your C-suite’s practical grow over time. This doesn’t stop with introductions and cursory overviews. This is monthly training for the rest of their tenure.
3. Build a list of likely scenarios. Chances are your communications team already does this. What if our product or service fails and injures people? What if an executive is caught doing something shady? What if a video portraying some terrible act in our stores is published to YouTube? What if a growing collection of customer bloggers start talking about a customer service-nightmare together? What if detractors organize online and begin to use social media to attack you or your client? You can’t imagine every scenario, but if you identify the most obvious ones including the platforms online where they could manifest you can start to imagine the responses necessary.
4. Create your digital crisis management procedures and integrate into your larger playbook. Two simple ideas here: A) Plan your use of social media to respond and B) make sure you integrate with your other means of response (e.g. traditional media, outreach to stakeholders, internal communications).
The idea being that having an actual plan, having run your department through crisis response drills even, and establishing a procedural framework will help you respond faster and better than not having a solid plan at all. Common sense? Sure! But how many companies have well-thought-out, current crisis response plans in place today? Quick: Whose responsibility is it to manage your social media channels? Do you know who the influential bloggers are in your industry? Which ones can you reach out to for help and which ones will turn on you? How will you respond to conversations and questions on Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere? Who does what and how?
This isn’t something John suggests in his article, but consider running your communications team and your organization through drills. You know, like fire drills. Create a mock crisis scenario and test your company’s response to it via traditional media, social web, internal communications, HR, IT, customer service, etc. Observe, find out what works and what doesn’t, note how disruptive (if at all) responding to a crisis is to the organization (as this is good to know) and conduct a post exercise debrief to help everyone absorb all of the lessons learned. Then make the necessary changes and repeat until you are satisfied that your crisis management procedure is tip-top.
Drafting a document that clearly outlines crisis management procedures for your organization – defining roles, steps to be taken, channels, tactics, timelines, etc. – will be extremely helpful in the event of a real emergency. Best practices in this area may warrant recruiting representatives of all departments and forming a crisis response committe that meets regularly to review crisis response planning, division of roles, internal training, and interdepartmental collaboration. (Companies that place the full burden of crisis management – digital or otherwise – on their PR departments usually find out pretty quickly that a PR department alone cannot handle most crises on its own. Companies that plan for crises, however, rarely have to worry about them when they do occur.
Why is this relevant to Brands? Because some day, your taco or soft drink might make someone sick. Your car may have faulty wiring that will cause injuries and deaths. Your delicious nougat chocolate bar or seasoned potato chips might cause unexpected allergic reactions in children. Your dog food will kill thousands of family pets. Your laptop batteries will explode and start house fires. Your yard chairs will collapse without warning. Your medication will turn out to cause severe internal tissue damage when taken with alcohol. Your product will become the principal target of environmentalists. Your CFO will be arrested in Argentina with tens of millions of your investors’ dollars. Your principal supplier will be featured on 60 Minutes for operating illegal sweat shops in thirteen countries.
The impact of these types of situations on a brand, your brand, can be severe. Not having a plan in place (and a solid plan at that) puts you in a terribly vulnerable position, and could sink even the most respected company’s image. (Think back to Tylenol scare in the 80’s, Nike’s sweat shop allegations in the 90’s, and Taco Bell’s decision to remove certain food items from their menu when e-coli and salmonella outbreaks in the US threatened to undermine the public’s faith in their food’s safety.) So take another look at these four steps, and put together a crisis response plan that involves digital media and the social web. The benefits may not be immediate, but someday, you will be glad you took the time to do it.
For John’s full article, go here.
Have a great Tuesday, everyone. 🙂