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Friday, July 10, 2015

To be effective in crisis management in the digital age means being able to use social media strategically. There is no crisis management today without a full understanding of how to use new media to listen to conversations around your brand in real-time, and understand what you do and don’t need to respond to.” – Chris Syme, author of Listen, Engage, Respond

Social media has dramatically changed the media and societal context in which reputations are managed; it has the ability to trigger or escalate a crisis situation – it can even be the issue itself. Thus, any organisation preparing for or responding to a high-profile crisis must understand the challenges and opportunities of using social media. It is not advisable for companies to use social media for the first time when responding to a live crisis. It is during “peacetime” that organisations need to explore the platforms available, decide what fits with their organisation and agree social media policies which can be incorporated into crisis communication procedures and plans.

The core principles of issues management remain unchanged, however the internet has altered the media landscape, which requires the deployment of new tactics. The rise of 24 hours news, social media and smartphone technology means that news of issues can spread quickly, from one continent to another, at any hour of the day.

Organisations have to act quickly in times of crisis, as credibility, reputation and the perception of their response is heavily influenced by their reaction during a crisis. A robust digital crisis communications plan is not just important, it’s a commercial imperative.

Here are 9 strategic steps to developing a digital crisis communications plan.

STEP 1: 
Decide how social your brand should be: Social media requires a different approach to the crisis communication techniques used in traditional media channels. However, using social media can also help to balance and even occasionally, help to resolve an issue or crisis. Companies are able to engage stakeholders directly through social media channels and as such, communication must be authentic, genuine and timely. At the same time, companies must accept that stakeholder feedback will be immediate and at times, critical. The first step for an organisation is therefore assessing the extent to which social media is important to their business and stakeholders, dedicating internal and/or external resources accordingly.

STEP 2: 
Identify a social media focal point
Ensure that a clear social media focal point is identified internally to champion thought leadership and capacity building within your organisation. Key priorities will include: mapping out the goals that your company intends to achieve through using social media as part of ‘business as usual’ communications, deciding how much time and resource needs to be dedicated towards achieving these goals and where external expertise can be drawn from. With the benefit of this level of oversight, this individual is in the best position to lead the development of guidelines around the use of social media in a crisis.

STEP 3: 
Create response and seeding plan: When a crisis hits, communicators need to be ready to clearly explain the 5Ws: who, what, why, where and when, plus the steps they are taking to resolve the issue. Activity to communicate this across owned, social, hybrid and traditional should be carefully planned. Communicators should consider utilising video to engage stakeholders as it has high search visibility and engagement rates, but most importantly is more authentic than a written statement.

STEP 4: 
Activate a Listening Tool: I would recommend all organisations undertake some form of online monitoring. Listen in on conversations taking placing online and in the media to understand what topics are being discussed and how they relate to your brand. Consistent monitoring allows you to see the crisis coming if you look for it. 

STEP 5: 
Build a ‘dark site’: A ‘dark site’ is an information hub which remains unpublished or ‘dark’ until a crisis hits. Organisations create ‘dark sites’, so when the unthinkable happens, they can respond quickly, effectively and clearly. A ‘dark site’ should feature up-to-date and relevant information, such as emergency response plans, organisational information and an online newsroom, so people will not have to seek out information from other sources.

STEP 6: 
Launch paid search: Paid search is an effective tactic to drive traffic to your ‘dark site’ when a crisis emerges. Search engines are amongst the first places people look for information, as well as being one of the most trusted sources of information, so paid search can give crisis activity the head-start it needs. When executed successfully, paid search helps add balance to search results and raise awareness of your response.

Build Social Guidelines: For general guidelines on messaging, be sure to address the five W’s. Think about who will talk on behalf of your organization, what they will say, when and how often they will address the public, why they would speak and where they will communicate.
Figure out where the conversations are happening and address it there. If someone speaks up on a different platform, redirect them to where you are talking about the crisis.

Determine what you WILL NOT respond to
  • Sarcastic, snarky or potentially inflammatory or damaging comments
  • Discussions/conversations between individuals that mention the company in which involvement could be perceived as intrusive
  • Posts in a language that the company doesn’t have the appropriate understanding or resources to respond to
  • Posts/forum threads that require membership to respond to, unless it’s a customer service issue negative post or misinformation you need to correct
  • Posts regarding staff consolidation, compensation or other Human Resources-related issues
  • Discussions regarding the legality of an acquisition, timing of a close and any financial data that is not already made publicly available

Form your digital crisis communications team

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