Effective crisis management response - it all starts with digital communications
Crisis management minimises the harm to an organisation and its stakeholders, or the public, in the event of unforeseen emergencies or natural disasters.
For businesses, potential threats and worst-case scenarios could be physical incidents, such as vehicle crashes, cyber threats to critical IT systems, or broader market risks from complex interrelated global supply chains.
The common outcomes of these situations are financial loss, reputation harm, and potential risk to human life. Crises are inevitable for businesses of all size. And without adequate internal and external communication alerts set up, when they do arise, the consequences are grave including:
Break down of operational response
Uninformed and unhappy stakeholders
Damaged corporate reputation
Extended time frame to full resolution of the issue.
An effective and well-executed communications strategy is essential to any strong crisis management plan.
Crisis communications framework
Start with the plan — a written crisis communication plan should be in place, which includes specific actions that will be taken in the event of a crisis — in other words, a crisis contingency plan. The key objectives during any crisis or natural disaster are to protect any individual (employee or public) who may be at risk, ensure that all key stakeholders are kept informed, and that ultimately the organisation survives. Proactive crisis management planning is the cornerstone of crisis response, so seek advice from external specialists and public relations experts, as needed, to ensure that threat scenarios are adequately mapped, and the right tools and resources are in place for an effective response.
Identify and train a spokesperson to head your crisis management team and manage all incident responses. A key spokesperson needs to be identified, prepared and kept as up to date on best practices to ensure that the media, staff, customers and the public are kept informed with a clear, consistent message. Ensure the spokesperson has the appropriate skills for communicating via the required channel – for larger organisations this is typically a hierarchy of communication or public relations leaders with extensive experience in crisis management and emergency responses. You may even consider hiring a crisis response consultant to head or inform your crisis leadership team.
Be honest and open — in our connected age it’s no longer possible to hope that information can be kept from the media or general public, so a policy of openness and transparency is essential to maintaining trust. This transparency must be projected through all communications channels and crisis planning: news interviews, social media, internal announcements, incident response messages, etc. You don't want to find yourself with negative publicity, so honesty is best practice when it comes to your organization's reputation.
Keep employees informed — employees are the main conduit to keeping communications flowing between all relevant stakeholders, so it’s essential to keep the workforce informed with all relevant up to date information to prevent the circulation of incorrect rumours and potentially negative statements that could hurt your organization's reputation.
Customer and supplier communications — information on any crisis situation should reach your customers and suppliers directly from you and your leadership team, not from the media. Part of the crisis communications contingency plan needs to include these vital key stakeholders, and how to keep them updated throughout the event.
Update early and often — be proactive and early with sharing news, even when the whole picture isn’t clear. It is better to over-communicate than to allow rumours to fill the void. Start with summary statements on whatever is initially known, and provide updated action plans and new developments as early and as often as possible to stay ahead of the 24/7 news cycle. Make use of “holding messages” – to inform key stakeholders very quickly that the significant incident is under management, and provide assurance that the organisation is in control of unfolding events.
Social media – ensure that all the channels that your stakeholders may be using are covered, not just the traditional areas in which critical statements were released, such as press releases or the company website. Nothing’s more damaging than incorrect information being live tweeted without your ability to see and respond with facts and the appropriate damage control.
Establish Notification Feeds and Crisis Monitoring Systems – staying informed and knowing what is being said about the company beforehand is essential to staying ahead of unfolding incidents. Monitoring systems allows companies to gather intelligence from a range of sources to keep informed and stay ahead of unfolding negative situations or sentiment. Before a crisis situation emerges, this can include using free options such as Google Alerts, or paid professional emergency management monitoring services, to track traditional media and trending social clues from staff, supplier and customer conversations. Internal processes should also be established that allow front line staff – sales, customer service, support, etc to report potential negative observations directly to the Crisis Communications Team.
Fast, effective, and properly targeted crisis communications are critical to minimising the impact of emergency incidents.
Multi-modal notifications have become critical to communicating quickly and effectively. Traditional, manual contact processes, such as phone trees, with teams of people making calls, or even email are typically too slow to execute an effective crisis response, and might not reach affected stakeholders in time. Messages should be sent on the channels that are most likely to reach affected parties – which can be bulk SMS, geotargeted communications, chat apps, social media, as well as traditional contact channels like voice and email. There also needs to be a mechanism to track message receipt and allow the appropriate response as needed.
Modern communication systems give crisis responders the ability to reduce manual handling, and consolidate these contact channels into a single, centralised hub.
To recap - planned, open and effective communication is the key to coping with a crisis. Leverage technology to deliver planned, multichannel, 2-way communication streams that keep key stakeholders informed, and minimise the risk of financial and reputation harm, and the risk to human life.