You can never be sure when a crisis might strike your brand. In some cases, crises can be related to serious adverse events that can range from human disasters like active shooters to natural disasters like hurricanes or fires. In other cases, the disaster might just be a disaster for certain stakeholders, such as the need to close a factory or to lay off personnel. However, what most crises have in common today is the need to communicate effectively that your organization is responsive, caring and ready to make things right. To ensure that you deliver the right message no matter what the situation, keep these tips in mind:
1. Have designated personnel who can communicate during a crisis.
Before a crisis hits, it’s important to know who will handle communications with the press and the public. Your crisis communications plan should have a designated person who can take emails and phone calls from reporters. You should also have someone manning your social media channels for social listening and to make responses when appropriate.
2. Respond as quickly as you can.
Silence can look like indifference during a crisis. Even a response saying that a longer response is forthcoming is a start. People want to feel heard. They want to know that you see their problems and that you are working to correct them. Keep people apprised of changes and developments as you can through designated channels. This can help maintain your company’s reputation and make it easier to recover.
3. Remember who the victims are.
Every organization needs to remember that, when a crisis occurs, it is not about them. Instead, the focus should be on those who were harmed. This is true whether your company caused the issue or not. The focus should be on compassion for those who were harmed and how they can be helped.
4. Leverage supporters.
Often, a positive word from someone who is on your side can go a long way toward protecting and restoring your reputation. Think of people in your industry who can help get out the word about your company. Is there a well-known authority who you work with? A person with a strong social media following and good knowledge of your brand? These trusted resources can be invaluable during a crisis. The trust that the audience feels toward them transfers to you and helps you maintain a positive reputation.
5. Avoid assigning blame.
When a crisis occurs, it can be tempting to place blame. However, this does not make your audience more sympathetic to you. Instead, it makes you look like you are trying to shift responsibility away from yourself.
In the end, blame is rarely useful. It does not matter whose fault a problem is, just that that problem exists. Instead, focus on what your is your company’s responsibility.
6. Be as transparent as possible.
In the modern digital landscape, people are quick to distrust organizations that do not communicate openly. While you may not be in a position to share privileged information or information that can lead to legal liability, you should share whatever you can to put people’s minds at ease. You and your organization will be judged no matter what you do. Even if the truth is not something that reflects well on your organization, most will respect your candor and your commitment to openness. Plus, when you take control and disperse facts yourself, it removes the power of critics to use those facts as a weapon.
7. Anticipate possible crises and plan in advance.
Crisis management doesn’t start when a crisis begins. Instead, it should begin as soon as your organization is large enough to have potential problems on the horizon.
Working through “what if” scenarios and drills can help ensure that you are ready when or if a crisis occurs. Make a list of the most likely crises to hit your business and the ones that would be the most damaging. By creating plans that respond to each of these, you are less likely to be caught unaware if something terrible happens. Not sure where your vulnerabilities lie? Talk to a crisis communications consultant. They have the experience and expertise to recognize possible issues and help you stay prepared and ready.
8. Keep a consistent message throughout your organization.
Inconsistent messaging can make a company look dishonest or like they have something to hide. Make sure that everyone who will be communicating with the world outside, whether it it through reporters or social media, is delivering a consistent message. Keep everyone up to date with changes and developments through memos and meetings so that no one inadvertently says the wrong thing and makes a situation worse.
9. Stay ahead of the story.
This is where good relationships with the media come into play. In almost all cases, they will seek out someone in your organization for a comment before they release a story critical of your company. Find out what information they have and what they plan to say. When you are caught unawares, it makes it harder for you to respond in a way that protects your reputation and gets the truth out.
10. Be prepared for backlash.
No matter how well or how quickly you respond, some anger at your company is natural and to be expected. Listen carefully to complaints and respond in a way that is measured and appropriate.
It is especially important not to react in a way that is defensive. While it can be tempting to fire back, especially when information that is being shared is inaccurate or unfair, these responses can do more harm than good. Instead, keep responses measured, compassionate and professional. This will go a long way toward portraying your company as collected, responsible and professional in the wake of a disaster.
11. Have a plan to rebuild trust.
Even when you do everything right, it can be hard for your company to come through a crisis with your reputation intact. You will need to take positive actions to rebuild trust and restore your valuable reputation.
Take responsibility and make those who were harmed whole when appropriate. Take actions to avoid a similar crisis in the future and let people know what you have done to improve your processes. Consider outreach efforts that can help improve the lives of people in your community. Together, these actions can turn a crisis into an opportunity to make your company stronger.
Your crisis communications education should be ongoing so that your knowledge evolves with the needs of your organization. Talk to experts to learn more about what crises can happen to you and the best ways to react. These and other tips can help you be prepared as possible for whatever comes.
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