With the continued growth of online mediums, from social media to blogs to forums and search engines, any crisis communications plan that doesn’t address the connected conversations and information online is at a disadvantage. The degree to which you engage in those channels varies from brand to brand, industry to industry and depends on how interested your customers are in getting information there. But, at a minimum, online channels should be accounted for. And, for most brands, specific tactics should be included that address the proliferation of these online mediums among media and consumers.
The following outlines an approach to addressing the needs of a modern organization in managing the interaction that is enabled through and perpetuated by new communications channels and technologies.
Crisis Communication Readiness & Social Media
As a brand, you are a target online. You can own it, or it will own you. Gone are the days when a message traveled in a single direction. The change that social mediums have brought is the ability of the channel to talk back. For those with a deliberate approach to social media, this is an advantage. As in traditional communications, a company’s message can’t be heard and important information can’t be shared without a channel to put the message through. The same rule applies in social mediums. The opportunity that social media brings is an unfiltered, immediate and direct channel to the public. A deliberate, dedicated and integrated approach to social media increases a brand’s ability to communicate, manage and mitigate the impact of a crisis on a brand.
A viable brand presence in times of crisis includes:
• A dedicated presence in social and online media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, company blog)
• A pre-crisis presence that includes regular content posts and discussions with those who follow, post and engage there
• An understanding of the most influential channels and individuals relevant to the brand and a way to instantly interact with them about the business of the brand (requiring relationships and understanding before a crisis hits)
• A listening and monitoring program used to understand the volume, tone and level of engagement in social channels before, during and after a crisis
• A fully staffed presence that includes a cross section of the organization to speed the information flow
• An integration plan to address the speed at which information travels online – outlining the roles and responsibilities of each area of the business responsible for addressing a crisis
• An executive-level understanding of the impact of social channels on the brand and a commitment to integrating social and online media into the brand’s response during a crisis
Taking it to the Next Level
For companies with an existing presence in social media, here are a few things to consider in crisis planning:
• Consistency: The existence of a social presence also creates the expectation that the company will use social channels during a crisis. The company has an opportunity and obligation to use these channels for the entire discussion about the brand, including during a crisis.
• Staffing: During times of crisis, the brand should have resources to staff the discussion in these channels, providing regular updates and responses based on approved messaging. Delay in getting a message in the channel should be a result of anything other than the ability to get the message out.
• Integration: Social media channels should enhance and support dissemination of information that is also happening through traditional channels.
• Coordination: Close coordination between all channels will make engagement in social media an effective strategy to manage crisis situations. Other areas of the business should understand and be prepared to support the continuous, real-time needs of communicating in social media.
As consumers grow to expect more from the brands they do business with, a deliberate approach to managing the entire brand conversation online is fundamental to a healthy social presence.