Are You Prepared for an Online Crisis?

Your company could be worth billions, but your reputation is priceless. Yet a 2013 Accenture survey revealed that only 28 percent of corporate risk managers are prepared to deal with crisis. How would you rate your company’s preparedness, especially in the digital realm? The time to determine that isn’t in the moment. By preparing today, you dramatically increase your organization’s chance of weathering a crisis.

Identify vulnerabilties

Digital preparedness begins with assessing your brand’s risks from every angle. Could any of your policies be interpreted as discriminatory? Is there any potential for food-borne illness? Identifying and cataloging potential vulnerabilities for your company will empower you to act quickly and effectively when a crisis begins. Take a critical look at the level of risk associated with each, and consider factors like company impact and length of time it could take the issue will play out.

Use the data gathered in your risk assessment to determine your response team. Remember that crises affect the entire organization, not just your social media manager. Determine a crisis response flowchart, and don’t be afraid to bring in your heavy hitters. The more acute the issue, the more a senior-level responder is needed. Depending on the complexity of your organization, you may want to work with your legal team to get a process pre-approved. Social media often moves faster than decision makers who are determining next steps, so significant response time can be wasted on bureaucracy in a crisis. We ask our clients “can you get a video online from your CEO within four hours, any time of the day, from anywhere in the world?” If the answer is no, then you’re not fully prepared.

When a crisis emerges, act fast

Every crisis is different, but when the day of reckoning arrives, there are standard public relations response steps to initially follow. Immediately acknowledge the situation, even if zero information is available, to stem the tide of “hey, did you know?” comments on social media. In 2016, the CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk, waited nearly a month to acknowledge the death of a driver while using Tesla’s “autopilot” feature. It was later revealed that Musk sold US$2 billion worth of stock during that delay, further complicating the crisis.

Follow the initial acknowledgement with a developed response that is true to your brand values. Your audience should also be able to easily navigate your response. Key stakeholders, in addition to social media followers, will assess your response for credibility.

Respond to audiences where they are

Social media crises add a layer of complexity by requiring tactical deployment. Start by responding where the crisis began once your message is crafted. In 2012, Kellogg encountered a Facebook-fueled crisis about genetically modified soy ingredients in their Kashi brand, which was advertised as containing “all natural ingredients.” They responded with a YouTube video that saw very little traction, rather than responding on Facebook where the crisis was developing. Their team wasted valuable time crafting content that did very little in the way of response. It’s prudent to house any response, in addition to FAQs, on a microsite to ensure consistency. This also allows community managers to use a link on social platforms where character counts matter.

We also advise creating a pressure release valve—such as a Facebook page, forum or comments section within your crisis microsite where discussions about the crisis can take place—a step that might seem counterintuitive. The reasoning for this strategy is twofold. First, it can help contain the discussion to a single platform so you can concentrate response resources. It can also serve as an early detection system to alert your team to any new developments in the crisis. Make sure this venue is constantly monitored and questions answered.

The most critical step in any social media crisis management is implementing a community management team. Timely responses go a long way in dampening negative rhetoric. Pre-approved language plays a vital role in quick responses, but take care to not sound “canned” and insensitive. Management is also responsible for keeping every employee informed, whether through internal emails, texts or blog posts. With critics coming from all platforms, every employee is a potential spokesperson.

As a crisis unfolds, your brand will have the largest, most critical, social media audience ever. Don’t become one of the many headlines for failed brand response; prepare now to face the unexpected.

Written by John Deveney for CW Magazine >>