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5 steps to creating your crisis management plan

Wednesday 15, Apr 2020

Any business can be hit by a crisis at any point in time. Any business can be hit with a crisis by surprise. The way your organisation responds can either help you weather the storm or cause irreparable damage to your reputation. As field experts, public relations professionals are often expected to create plans of action, align all stakeholders, and ultimately protect the company’s reputation in the event of a crisis.

According to the State of PR 2020, based on a survey by market data firm YouGov and social analytics company Talkwalker, PR professionals account for 33% of global social listening users with protecting brand reputation and crisis management as top uses.

How PR professionals are using social listening today, Source: State of PR 2020 report

There’s no doubt that the digital age has made it particularly challenging for public relations and communications experts to be in control of all the conversations happening that could affect their brand, which in turn can impact their bottom line. With the ease at which news can travel and go viral, the only way organisations can survive when a crisis hits is if they are prepared with a crisis management plan.

A virality map showing how a negative online news story spread all over social media and forums in a matter of days

5 crucial steps to create your crisis management plan

1: Identify your crisis communication task force

One of the most important things during a crisis situation is that your team is able to act fast. You need key people who will be making the decisions to represent your internal and external stakeholders. It is absolutely essential that you determine the scope and responsibility of each member of the task force – from PR to marketing, social media/community management, customer service, legal and HR.

There also has to be a clear chain of command that the task force can follow for securing approvals and ideally one person from the management team who will make the final decision on all communications.

2: Define your company’s communications guidelines specific to the crisis at hand

Different crises will have different challenges and requirements to consider. Your response to an internal crisis (e.g. data/security breach, product recalls) could entail an entirely different approach to external crises like natural disaster or pandemic.

Here are a some critical questions that you could base your communications guidelines on:

  • Will your company be releasing an official statement? If yes, keep in mind the channels that you will be using to communicate your official statement (e.g. company memo, press release, email to your customers/database, social media posts).
  • What is the official messaging that your company wants employees and stakeholders to use when communicating externally? For consumer-facing departments especially, it would be great if you can provide FAQs on what your company can/cannot say to clients, prospects, media/journalists, social media/community, etc.
  • Who should inquiries related to the press, legal, customer service be escalated to? To save time, you can work with each department representative in your task force to prepare for the most common scenarios. Provideyour team members with guidelines on how they should respond to inquiries, who to escalate issues to, and what turnaround time they should communicate to the party that sent the inquiry.
  • What’s the communication plan for internal updates? When will the next update be? What is the frequency of updates that employees can expect regarding the situation? Make sure that you provide up-to-date contact information for key employees should people need any clarifications or guidance in navigating through the situation.

3: Re-evaluate all ongoing and upcoming campaigns

There is a crisis but you can’t simply cancel all your campaigns. Simply put, you’re still running a business. 

You must strike a balance between being sensitive to the situation but also having a business plan. So list down all the campaigns that you have planned – all those content publications, events, advertising, influencer campaigns, promotions. Review them one by one and consider pausing if they are against the communication guidelines you’ve established, and likely to inflame the crisis or be perceived as inconsiderate during this time. 

On the other hand, evaluate if it’s possible to adapt any of your campaigns to further support your messaging or simply resonate with your audience during this time. If yes, then you can adapt accordingly. 

One great example here is Junkee Media AWOL, which used to promote everything related to travel. It has been temporarily rebranded to “Activities Without Leaving” and have since focused on publishing content about the many things Aussies can do from home from live-streamed workshops to virtual museum tours, and supporting their favourite restaurants by ordering in.

AWOL temporarily gets rebranded to Activities Without Leaving

4: Fact check everything before you share, react or respond

The last thing you’d want in a time of crisis is to be spreading misinformation. Before you share anything in relation to the topic – especially if you are sharing these from your official channels, make sure that your approval process includes credibility checks. 

As a best practice, it’s always useful to have pre-approved external messages and assets that you can use on your social media channels. This will allow your social media team to respond with confidence and in a timely manner. Remember that in times of difficulty, your brand leadership will be put to the test. This is the time when your audience will pay more attention about how responsive you are, thus, being more visible helps.

Be proactive in finding opportunities to further support your online community with content that will resonate with them during a time of need. Listen to what your audience is saying and do your best to add value to the conversations that they are having.

While you’d like to keep the conversation with your audience going, also remember that not everything warrants a response. However, if and when you do respond, make sure that you’re complying with the official communications guidelines.

5: Monitor how the conversations are evolving and pivot

Take time to really understand the current situation in relation to the crisis and any relevant conversations that could be happening about your brand or industry. 

 7-day snapshot of conversation clusters in the Oceania region related to Covid-19, Source: Talkwalker. Check out the Covid-19 daily insights report here

In times of uncertainty, go back to the data:

  • Social data: See what your customers are saying about the situation and about your brand. What is the general sentiment about your brand and how did this change during the crisis?
  • Market watch: Understand the impact of the crisis on the market and industry at large. How should you be adjusting your marketing strategy to adapt to the situation?
  • Competitor analysis: Observe how your competitors are reacting to the situation or if they have encountered a similar crisis in the past. How did they respond to it?
  • Consumer data: Don’t forget the data you already own. Is there an increase in customer support calls/hotlines? What are the biggest concerns your customers are raising and how can you address that in your official communication?

Depending on how advanced your need for monitoring is, you could be setting up real-time alerts for any mentions of your brand and company executives, or you could set up a full on command center. 

Just make sure you have a plan.

Download these crisis management templates to help you navigate through any issue effectively. 

Written by Christine Aguilar who leads digital marketing and communications for Asia Pacific at Talkwalker.

Talkwalker is a listening and analytics company that provides companies with an easy-to-use platform to protect, measure, and promote their brands worldwide, across all communication channels. Talkwalker’s state-of-the-art social media analytics platform uses AI-powered technology to monitor and analyze online conversations in real-time across social networks, news websites, blogs and forums in 187 languages.

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