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The 2020 Guide to Expert Crisis Management

When a crisis hits, it’s critical to be ready. This guide is designed to give your organization the best chance of getting through a crisis, big or small.

GUIDEThe 2020 Guide to Expert Crisis Management

The Covid-19 pandemic has imposed an awful dichotomy on businesses. While some are in high growth mode, 2020 will be a year of crisis for most. And by the look of current forecasts, an organization’s survival is by no means guaranteed.

This updated crisis management guide for 2020 is designed to give organizations the best possible chance of getting through a crisis, based on what we know to be best practice.

There are four key facets to a crisis management strategy that can help a business get through unscathed:

  1. Plan
  2. Monitor and assess
  3. Respond
  4. Iterate

Let’s take you through each of these, step-by-step.

1. Plan

When Deloitte asked a group of board members who’d seen their companies through a crisis what they’d do differently next time, 24% said they’d do more to identify potential crisis scenarios  and 32% said they’d improve detection and early warning systems.

These speak to the two kinds of crises that can pop up:

  • Issues you can predict
  • Issues you can’t predict

Issues you can predict are easier to build plans for, while those that are unpredictable are more liable to throw things into chaos. But both can be prepared for.

Identifying risks

To get ahead of problems proactively, brainstorming potential crises of different sizes can help your team build a plan to execute in the event of those crises.

This can be done by assembling a multi-disciplinary team, discussing the various issues that could arise or have previously arisen, and identifying what needs to be put in place to address those issues in the future.

A historical look at crises that have occurred in your company or to others in your sector can give helpful context to these conversations. Internal war stories that are part of the institutional memory of your organization can be one part of this, but an in-depth historical data analysis of different kinds of crisis and responses can help map risks. Looking inward and also sideways to others in your space is crucial here – the more you know about how previous crises have gone down, the better you can prepare for future ones.

Building a crisis notification system

Whether you’re looking to be alerted about issues that you know could come up, or for those that you could never predict, there are plenty of ways you can ensure that nothing goes under the radar.

Building a crisis notification system

Need Solution
Getting alerted immediately to stories circulating about known issues By categorizing online conversation on social and forums, plus news mentions, across different issues relating to your brand, instant alerts can be set up so that relevant stakeholders can know what the story is and what’s driving it.
Getting alerted immediately to stories circulating about unpredictable issues By setting up general trackers for online conversation and news mentions around your brand (plus factors that affect your industry), automatic signals can alert key stakeholders to changes in conversation, like a sudden increase in volume or negative sentiment.

Building a strong notification system is a vital part of the planning stage, especially when early notifications can give key stakeholders extra time to monitor the emerging crisis, assess the severity, craft the best possible response action, and intercept the issue early to help limit the damage.

Note: Brandwatch clients can find a guide to creating Covid-19-related Signals here.

Creating action plans

Once you’ve mapped out the issues you’re preparing for, it’s time to put plans in place.

Appointing a small team of key senior team members to take charge on crisis communications is vital. Make sure to pick a representative sample of each department in your company to ensure blind spots on potential implications are kept to a minimum. This group will be responsible for making key decisions during times of crisis and will be in charge of regularly meeting to review and update the comms plan.

A key responsibility for your emergency communications team will be creating holding statements. You can’t predict exactly what crisis will arise but you can develop communications to be used for a wide variety of scenarios. Having these prepared statements on hand will allow you to respond to your audience faster when a problem does arise.

Remember that a key part of crisis communication will be internal. Make sure there is setup in place to distribute relevant information and advice to employees in ways they can easily access.

2. Monitor and assess

With plans in place and alert systems set up, ongoing monitoring and assessment can be a less anxious process. Without those things in place, once a crisis begins the planning needs to be done at short notice and things can become chaotic.

Monitoring and automation

Having automatic alerts can be the difference between a group of qualified stakeholders being notified as things happen, and a highly negative tweet or Reddit post gathering momentum while social media managers are off duty. The faster things are noticed, the faster they can be assessed and dealt with – and things can escalate quickly, particularly online.

For example, when somebody tweeted about a fire in a supermarket, the digital team were able to get an automated alert through Brandwatch, assess the situation, work with key stakeholders, and have the situation resolved within an hour.

Without the level of customized prioritization that allowed the team to know so quickly about danger in a store, it could have taken much longer to make sure everything was OK.

This is the difference between automated monitoring and manual monitoring. With the help of Brandwatch’s automated, customizable Alerts, crisis responses can be swift and effective and the wider impact of the incident can be limited.

Assess a potential crisis situation

Does the issue you identified have the potential to turn into a full-scale crisis?

Something as small as a complaint on social media about a late delivery should not have to force a PR team into overdrive. However, it is essential to reply to this type of mention empathetically and in a timely manner, to prevent them from escalating.

There are a few things you might consider when evaluating how big of an issue something could turn into. For example, how influential are the people involved? How fast is the story being picked up by other users? An influx of mentions from one person may not be too worrisome compared to a few mentions from two or three influential people.

Regardless of the influence of those involved, the problem ought to be dealt with. But tracking the velocity of the conversation, can just help prioritize responses before things escalate further.

Track the volume of mentions and compare the spike to the average number of mentions you receive on a typical day–the trajectory of the line when looking at hour or minute-by-minute breakdown will tell you whether the crisis is growing, peaking or disappearing, which is vital information when deciding on next steps.

Another important component of the assessment stage is checking the accuracy of the mentions, news and images shared on social media. All the facts should be checked before a definitive response is issued.

When a crisis is identified, start by calling your crisis team together. Give them a debrief of what you know and then, using the plans you’ve made, discuss what kind of response would be most appropriate.

3. Respond

The team is in crisis mode, and plans are being enacted. It’s time to respond.

Identify key messages

If you have your holding statements prepped, it’s time to take them out and decide what key messages need to be added in or taken out. Keep it simple – have no more than three main messages and communicate them clearly.

While this is being done, your social media accounts can be a useful channel. Any communication must be handled carefully, but acknowledging that you’re looking into an issue can help quell demands for immediate action. We’ve all experienced frustration at a company going silent amidst a scandal. Sometimes, just knowing someone is doing something is enough to quiet fears (as long as that action sounds sensible and proportionate to the seriousness of the problem).

Inform internally

Run internal briefings to all teams, providing a detailed explanation of the situation and advise members of staff on how they should respond if contacted by press. Effective internal communication is as important as opening up to the public with an official statement.

Leveraging a command center for these instances can allow you to both receive external feedback in real time and to share crucial comms across your organization immediately, ensuring you will be the single source of truth for your team. You can read a bit more about how this might work using Brandwatch’s visualization tools here.

Communicate early and often (in your brand voice)

You have the information you need, you know your key messages. Now it’s time to start talking publicly.

Start the conversation by introducing the problem, the current status, and the proposed solution. It can be useful to commit to regular updates – this sets deadlines for your team and provides comfort for your audience. But, of course, be realistic.

Remember to always gut-check your communications against your company voice. Just because a crisis is at hand doesn’t mean you have to sanitize the personality of your brand. Keep the information at the front but don’t turn into someone you’re not.

4. Iterate

Once the dust settles, take the time to analyze and review your team’s crisis response. What obstacles popped up that you hadn’t planned for? What would you do differently? What went well? This is an opportunity to hone your plan for the next issue that arises.

This process is not a set-it-and-forget-it solution. Crisis or no crisis, all these steps need to be reviewed regularly and updated accordingly.

How people reacted, both to the crisis itself and to reactions, is possibly the most important data to feed back into your ever-evolving crisis management plan.

If you’re looking to improve your crisis management toolkit and want to ensure your business is on the front-foot during these make-or-break moments, request a demo of Brandwatch’s digital consumer intelligence platform today.

Crimson Hexagon has merged with Brandwatch. You’re in the right place!

From May 8th, all Crimson Hexagon products are now on the Brandwatch website. You’ll find them under ‘Products’ in the navigation. If you’re an existing customer and you want to know more, your account manager will be happy to help.