October 16, 2015

It is vital to respond to a crisis as soon as possible. A few years ago it was acceptable to release a statement in a day or two, but not with the immediacy of social media today. Through social media a crisis can be broadcasted in a nanosecond and therefore isn’t time to first position yourself or to try to understand all the facts before you make a statement. Ultra-urgency is not emphasised enough when it comes to a crisis.

The right message, delivered in the right words, to the right audience and in the right way is vital. If not, you might find yourself having to deal with a mistake for weeks afterwards.

If you leave or ignore a crisis it will lead people to speculate, which can cause a lot of damage to your brand. Another reason why it is important to respond to a crisis as soon as possible is because otherwise your competitor, government or police for example will give comment and the party who responds first has the upper hand.

Best practice is to respond immediately, be transparent and take accountability for the mistake. Make sure you set reasonable expectations for your next steps. You do not have to wait until you have all the facts or have analysed the crisis before you respond, you can simply give the facts that you have at your disposal and mention that you are investigating the situation. Also make sure that you point out any false information that is doing the rounds.

Never say ‘no comment’. This is the worst thing you can do in a crisis situation. Saying ‘no comment’ will make you look guilty or like you are trying to hide something. If the spokesperson is not available at the time, take the reporter’s number and say that you will get back to them with a response as soon as possible.

If you handle reporters well during a crisis it can have a very positive effect. Relationships with media are key, and if you are easy to deal with and always give them the information they need as quick as possible they will like you and will not be likely to write stories about your brand in a negative light.

Remember there will be negative comments on your social media pages directed towards your company. How you respond to these will determine whether the complaint remains small or whether it snowballs.

‘The secret of crisis management is not good vs. bad, it’s preventing the bad from getting worse,’ says Andy Gilman, the president/CEO and founder of CommCore.

Do’s when you are faced with a crisis:

  1. Notify all stakeholders, including employees, before talking to the media
  2. Own up to the crisis
  3. Respond with a solution that outweighs the problem/crisis/criticism
  4. Give all your attention to the crisis
  5. Assess what needs to be done and delegate responsibilities
  6. Find the facts
  7. Monitor all social media and media channels closely
  8. Always put people first
  9. Be human in your communication
  10. If it is a social media crisis, manage the crisis on that specific channel unless it is necessary to go to other channels

Don’ts when faced with a crisis:

  1. Never ever, ever lie
  2. Do not disappear
  3. Do not say no comment
  4. Do not deny something while you wait for the facts
  5. Do not make a joke
  6. Do not repeat the accusation or crisis in your statement
  7. Do not speculate
  8. Do not lose your cool 

Steps for managing a crisis

  1. Inform the crisis management team
  2. Evaluate the degree of the crisis and urgency, and delegate tasks
  3. Decide on positioning and messaging
  4. Make a decision on which communication channels to use
  5. Inform all the stakeholders, including employees – inform them of protocol and the correct contact person if they have questions
  6. Make a statement to the media
  7. Manage critical parties
  8. Monitor social media & traditional media
  9. Keep all stakeholders, employees, media and other relevant parties informed
  10. Assess and review the crisis

How to put a crisis plan in place

  1. Anticipate all possible crises
  2. Put a crisis management team in place
  3. Create a crisis management FAQ document to fill in the Five Ws and H (questions whose answers are considered basic in information-gathering)
  4. Choose spokespeople and give them media training
  5. Share the crisis plan with all employees to make sure everyone knows what to do and what not to do in the event of a crisis
  6. Compile a list of all employees, spokespeople, the crisis management team, critical parties and media contacts to make sure communication can go out to everyone immediately in the event of a crisis
  7. Have a media response policy in place and make sure everyone is aware of it
  8. Write a general statement that can be used as a template for a crisis statement
  9. Assign responsibilities to:
    • act as the crisis manager and be the main point of call during a crisis
    • inform all the stakeholders and employees about the crisis
    • manage and monitor the social media channels
    • manage the PR and direct media queries to the relevant spokespeople
    • handle and manage critical parties for example law enforcement, government etc.
  10. Assess/review the crisis and make changes to the current crisis plan