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How to Manage an Online Media Crisis

Date Created: 26/04/2021

No brand wants to hear the word "crisis". Negative news travels much faster than positive news. And it's even faster on the internet. The definition of crisis has changed over time.

You can never predict what can tarnish a brand's image. However, experts recommend having a crisis detection matrix and an action plan. It's important to remember that a crisis never becomes a crisis in one fell swoop.

No matter the size, age or heritage of your business - it is vulnerable to crisis. These days, there are more and more data breaches or social media cases of events that seem to require a certain level of vigilance and responsiveness.

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The problem right now, however, is that many, many companies are setting themselves up for failure by only reactively responding to potential crises. We don't want to be alarmists, but some of the main problems that can arise from a lack of proactive crisis planning are:

  • Operations will collapse because no one is a designated spokesperson
  • Stakeholders don't know what is going on or there is a lack of clear messaging to address the situation - scared, confused and angry stakeholders are not good for business
  • From the outside looking in, you'll be placed in running lists of PR disasters or PR mishaps. This is not a good image
  • Resolving the situation will take longer and likely have some stumbling blocks along the way
  • The financial impact will be far worse if you don't contain the situation

Below are just some of the basic steps you need to take to make sure you have the right crisis plan in place, or at least understand how much goes into such a plan before you put it on the back burner.


Pre-Crisis Plan

1. The Crisis Squad
Honestly, you don't have to think too hard here. You need to have the management team as the default on the crisis team and you need to make sure the owner/CEO is leading the pack.

In addition to the CEO/owner, the PR manager or whoever is suitable and qualified should be on hand to help manage the crisis in terms of what should be said and done.

It would be good to have social media managers and web managers by your side as well. They are on the front line and understand what the mood and consensus is among the public as well as stakeholders.

They can relay any spikes in online traffic or the tone of the news to get insight into the real issues and hear what the public thinks - which can help steer the issue in the right direction.


2. Notification & Monitoring Systems

When we talk about notification systems, we mean tools that can provide you and your stakeholders with information in an instant.

This includes and is by no means limited to: smartphones (probably multiple), chat apps (again, probably multiple), social media (you get the idea), email (yes, also multiple).

There used to be a phone, an email, a fax, and a website as a notification portal for your stakeholders, now people are expected to have instant responses via social media, they feel really screwed if you don't have a blog post about the situation, and so on.

In this case, you need to clarify a plan that will deliver crisis communications to your stakeholders in the most efficient way. Social media is most likely the number one method for notifications.

Now let's move on to monitoring systems. This can be as high-tech or low-tech as you want. It depends on how quickly you want to know about the spread of a crisis within the media ecosystem.

There is also social media tracking, again news spreads, so pay attention to that, from free to paid platforms you can try. Have a designated user to keep an eye on all monitoring systems on a daily basis.

3. Know Your Stakeholders

Find out who your internal and external stakeholders are. They need to be communicated to first, they need to receive the crisis messages first.

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You also need to consider who those stakeholders are. Messaging and how you communicate is different for employees than it is for shareholders. So work on your stakeholder list and develop communications that resonate best with them.
An important tip here is to consider your employees as your biggest and best stakeholders. Consider how many social media accounts there are that are collectively talking about your brand thanks to your employees.

One employee with 100 friends is likely to have a bigger "viral" effect than your paid push through advertising channels, so try to focus on using this method to communicate with real users of your services/products.

Employees can communicate with like-minded people and spread news and messages, hopefully leading to a network effect where your messages are spread for free and by word of mouth.

4. Develop Holding Statements

When a crisis occurs, it will take some time before an answer can be given. The facts and details need to be delivered to the crisis team so they can be dissected and interchanged with the variables you established in the planning phase.

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This should be a quick process with the proactive planning you have done, but a real-time release of a statement, in this case a holding statement, is critical to show stakeholders that you have taken note of the situation and the issue.

In a crisis situation, you can have pre-planned holding statements ready to go live in your company's online newsroom. This can be a draft or a dedicated crisis newsroom that goes live during a situation. Either way, you have an easily accessible statement that anyone can access internally and make live.

The purpose of a statement is not to beg for forgiveness, but to simply acknowledge the situation, provide easily accessible contact information, and have a central location where updates can be added and viewed by stakeholders.


Post-Crisis Review

1. Assessment

In the spreadsheet, there is an additional tab for following up on the crisis. It's not lengthy, it's not a soul-crushing process - it's there to evaluate and update processes. Most of us will shy away from this behaviour because it means people, management, etc., are now scanning and looking for problems.

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Assess, discuss and develop strategies on how to fix the problems you observe and update potential scenarios that may occur.

This is also part of being proactive: you now have the facts and figures on how your company responded, how stakeholders responded, how the whole process was handled and what can be done to optimise the process.

2. Update & Adapt Crisis Communication

You had your holding statements on call - were they right for the situation?

  • Did you have to readjust?
  • If so, how much time was spent making the changes?
  • What additional statements should be created and why?
  • Which journalists who mentioned the crisis need additional media work?

Once you've gone through the assessment and review of how the crisis was handled, it's time to implement changes and adjust your crisis communications plan to address any shortcomings you observed.

Assessment and review are part of being proactive. It serves to fine-tune your process and help your organisation deal with crises in a far more efficient manner, limiting the impact that would have otherwise caused additional damage.

For more information on crisis and reputation management, feel free to contact the experts at OneTeam.


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