It happens sometimes: consumers react badly about a product feature, something you have said, or some brand imagery and the conversation goes viral. All of a sudden you are in the middle of a PR crisis.
While this doesn’t happen that often, it is important to be aware of the potential for a PR crisis and take steps to be able to manage them if they happen: monitoring social media is a very effective way of identifying a possible crisis so that action can be taken before it happens.
Ideally you will be monitoring social media constantly – especially if you are providing a constant service such as an airline, internet service provider, broadcaster or bank.
If resourcing this is difficult in the UK, then potentially you could outsource monitoring outside office hours to an experienced supplier in a different time-zone. You will have to designate an employee (authorised to take appropriate action) to be on call for emergencies outside office hours in this case.
If you are not monitoring 24/7, then it is important to have someone responsible for checking for problems at the very start of each work day.
Be prepared! It is important to have plans in place to enable appropriate actions to be taken in the event of a crisis.
Getting a quick press release out is no longer likely to be sufficient. You need to be able to respond, rapidly, in the places where the crisis is building. This is likely to be Twitter, Facebook or YouTube.
Preparation involves the three Ps of crisis management: predictions, protocols and practice.
The first thing to do is try to predict the possible things that could go wrong: a faulty product batch, sabotage, an unexpected senior resignation etc. That way you can develop some likely positioning statements.
This is really when the lawyers should be consulted: before a crisis happens so that during a crisis actions can be taken swiftly using holding statements that have been pre-prepared to meet the most likely eventualities.
You also need to have protocols in place for responses: rules for how you will react and the responsibilities of individal team members. These should include:
- Key messages including apologising (if appropriate), saying there is a plan for dealing with the problem; and committing to find out the cause so repetitions can be prevented
- Guidelines on tone of voice to be used in various circumstances
- Team structures that allow decisions to be made quickly and then empower individuals to execute agreed plans
- Using an external person to feedback an “outside view” of proposed actions before they are implemented
And finally you need to practice. Getting colleagues to fire awkward questions or comments at you is one way of doing this: it will help you get used to using the pre-prepared holding statements as well as giving you practice in responding according to the protocols you have agreed. Ideally you will create realistic crisis simulations: companies such as polpeo.com specialise in providing realistic training in online crisis management.
Predictions, protocols and practice: these won’t prevent a crisis – but they should stop a crisis turning into a full blown disaster.
If you would like more detailed advice about setting up systems to help you manage potential online PR crises then please get in touch with us on firstname.lastname@example.org, @mosocolondon or 07855 341 589.