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5 steps to managing a crisis online

This article about crisis management was originally written for Dinheiro Vivo, a Portuguese news and economic publication to coincide with a presentation that I gave at Upload in Lisbon.

A crisis situation used to break on television news. Print news media, with its 24-hour cycle, followed with in-depth analysis.

Now people on the scene share breaking news via social networks thanks to the Internet and mobile devices, and are amplified by traditional media online.

Managing a crisis online is no different to managing one offline apart from the speed. Modern crisis situations are fast paced. It can be incredibly challenging for an organisation.

Here are five key areas for dealing with a crisis.

#1 Meet public expectation

Any gap between what an organisation says and what it does will be highlighted on social forms of media such as blogs, Glassdoors, Facebook, TripAdvisor and Twitter. Addressing this issue and ensuring that there is no discrepancy is critical to building trust.

The role of public relations and communications teams is to spot potential issues and advise leaders on a course of action.

#2 Prepare: teams and workflow

Scenario planning should be part of any organisation’s risk management. Preparation for a crisis should start long before a crisis situation breaks and should be regularly tested.

Appoint key leaders and staff from each operational and regional area of the business to be part of the crisis response team. Scenario plan different crisis situations and devise policies and workflow to enable your organisation to respond.

#3 Monitoring and alert systems

Organisations need a robust monitoring and alert system to spot issues as soon as they emerge on any form of media anywhere in the world.

Communication teams should invest in robust monitoring and alert solutions for their brand names, key personnel and markets. A mature third-party tools market has developed in this area.

#4 Assess the situation

Assemble the crisis team and get a full understanding of the situation as quickly as possible.

It’s critical to acknowledge the crisis situation as quickly as possible. It should be addressed in the media where it was first reported by providing a clear indication of who within the organisation is addressing the situation and how.

Humility, appropriate tone of voice and public engagement is critical. You can’t advertise your way out of a crisis situation.

#5 Develop a response

Tell people what you’re doing to address the situation, report regularly on progress, tell them when it’s done, and then tell them again and again.

The most senior person available in the organisation should be put forward as a spokesperson.

Transparent and open communication during a crisis is critical to gaining the trust of your audience and rebuilding confidence.

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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.

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