Crisis Planning in a Digital World

As Benjamin Franklin famously said: ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’. This mantra applies to many aspects of business, but none more so than when it comes to crisis management. Having a plan in place on how to deal with most eventualities is key to minimising the potential damage. Things don’t always go to plan – incidents such as damage to premises, key staff being unable to work or failure of IT systems can have serious consequences not just for the temporary operational running of your business and reputation, but also financially.

There are many resources widely available for formal crisis management and business continuity, so in this blog post we want to focus on how to prepare for, and deal with, a crisis of the digital kind.

In today’s digital world, news travels faster than ever before. Social networks such as Twitter and Facebook make it very easy to share stories (regardless of whether they are ‘real’ or ‘fake’ news) which can quickly go viral. If companies don’t have a response or mechanism in place to deal with a digital crisis, this can have a potentially long-term damaging effect on your brand.

Digital crises can be anything from a disgruntled client or member of staff making damaging comments in public, to lawsuits being filed or private pictures being shared on social media.

 

Before an issue arises – write a plan

Think of all the eventualities and sticky situations that could arise, write them down and work out how you would respond to them. Have a few holding statements and standard responses available that can then be tweaked to apply to the crisis at hand. Create an internal communications plan to key staff and stakeholders which details the flow of information as well as individual responsibilities.

Share the plan with all those who need to know, and we don’t mean keeping a printed copy in your desk drawer. Upload the document to intranets or collaboration software, email it to the relevant staff and make it an agenda item for board and team meetings. Review it at regular intervals as and when key staff, marketing campaigns and service portfolios evolve.

We also recommend having a written social media policy for employees which can go a way towards pre-empting some potential issues.

 

When the issue arises

Quick response

This can be a brief acknowledgement of the situation across the company’s social media channels, or a more formal press release. Don’t pretend there is no issue! You don’t have to provide a solution to the problem straight away, but by acknowledging the issue you are showing that you are taking the matter seriously and are doing something about it.

Don’t forget to communicate internally so staff and stakeholders are being kept updated and know what to (and not to) say and do. Consider whether there are any pre-scheduled posts going out soon which will negatively impact on the issue at hand.

Take it offline

If it’s an individual that is causing a crisis, such as a serious complaint or allegation, try to move the conversation offline, out of the public eye. This way, hopefully no more fuel will be added to the online fire and your crisis will hopefully soon be overshadowed by another one that’s nothing to do with you – at least in the online world. Encouraging a direct dialogue with the individual will help you get to the bottom of the issue and potentially establish a solution, without escalating the matter further.

Keep people in the loop

Once the initial crisis has died down, and depending on the severity of the crisis, it might be a good idea to share any developments or updates with all those involved, or even the wider (online) community. Even if it’s a legal matter that you are not officially allowed to comment on, make sure you show that you are as open in your communication as you can be. And if at all possible – put a positive spin on it by showing how you’ve learnt from the crisis.