PR professionals are familiar with the crisis drill, because we’re called upon when crisis strikes and we’re prepared with our crisis plans in place. Today, executives realize that crisis takes precedence, as their companies are in the public’s critical eye, their brands are the topic of constant conversations and communication travels more quickly than ever before through social media channels.
The difference between the PR crisis manager and the pre-crisis doctor is the ability to use the very channel that causes the crisis, to prevent the situation from either starting or spiraling out of control. It’s one thing to prepare how you would manage the situation but it’s an entirely different strategic process to try to prevent it from happening. Today we’re able to scan, monitor and respond more proactively to all different types of media, including the negative conversations in social media communities. There should be no waiting or hesitation. If two hours of crisis goes by, then those two hours have the potential to lead to serious reputation issues and damage.
It’s better to prevent and/or manage the situation to lessen severity, with a public response that immediately addresses the issue at hand. Companies are learning to listen more closely to the dialog of their customers and other constituents, whether it is positive praise, product questions, service issues, related organizational concerns or outright anger. As the pre-crisis doctor analyzes how the organization moves through different situations, these conversations are documented and separated into “conversation buckets.” These are the very buckets that house information or intelligence on best practices. In some cases the intelligence leads to a favorable outcome and in other cases to some serious lessons learned.
How do you become a pre-crisis doctor? Part of the process is learning to monitor more closely and on a constant basis. Social media doesn’t stop at the close of the normal business day and it doesn’t take off on holidays. People are talking into the late hours of the night and early hours in the morning. Years ago, the crisis manager would have plan in place that covered what would happen if negative communication appeared in traditional media. Then, at the onset of web communications, businesses found the benefits of 24/7 interactions and a broader reach, but this also meant that information about their issues could spread faster through online media, when a negative story broke.
Now, the media doesn’t have to break the story because consumers can easily share their negative views and opinions in their communities, followed by the media reinforcing the escalating issues. When ongoing monitoring is in place, the pre-crisis doctor has a better chance of pinpointing the mounting issue, evaluating it more quickly, focusing on the change in sentiment and carefully responding to slow down the rapid pace of sharing before the issue(s) gets completely out of hand.
Going beyond the crisis manager, most pre-crisis doctors will prepare several additional resources integrated in the crisis operational plan. These items include:
- Prepare an organizational chart of key contacts involved in the social media responses, as the crisis escalates to different levels. For example, by charting levels of escalation and the appropriate parties tied to those levels (usually from different departments) there is no question at any time or hesitation when it comes to the evaluation process and who responds to the crisis, through the appropriate social channels.
- Create a thorough comment response chart that gathers types of actions and responses and walks the company through the situation with a Yes / No flow chart to determine specific actions that need to be taken.
- Identify of different areas within the company that may need to work together (integration of departmental crisis plans). These areas may include marketing, PR, Web, Brand, IT, Legal, and Customer Service. Remember, the communications department is no longer the sole gatekeeper of information when it comes to social media and the crisis situation.
- Determine the shell of messaging from the small conversation mishap on Facebook or Twitter to the full-blown “tornado” crisis in a YouTube video. Many of these types of situations may already be properly documented and placed into your “Conversation Buckets.” You should also have an internal sharing system in place in order for all members of the crisis team to easily access the documented information during the crisis situation.
- Build relationships with key media and bloggers before an issue escalates. Also, prioritize those influencers who you will alert first at the onset of a crisis. Crisis managers are skilled at pinpointing the priority media and today the pre-crisis doctor includes bloggers among those powerful influencers during a crisis situation.
- Select and evaluate the social media tools, resources and platforms that are necessary to highlight rapid communications during a crisis. Demo and test all of your technology so that you’re able to easily and quickly use it during a crisis situation. This type of homework must be done beforehand.
- Identify what type of measurement will be used to determine if the evaluation and response system is working during a crisis situation. For example, measuring aggregated conversation sentiment before, during and after the crisis helps to determine the crisis plan’s effectiveness.
- Train the crisis team as well as your general employee population, so they understand what can and can’t be said on any channel during a crisis situation.
The pre-crisis doctor is ready and waiting for the negative situation to occur. Because information is documented, monitoring is in place and employees know what to do in a crisis situation, there’s more of an opportunity for the pre-crisis doctor and the rest of the crisis team to possibly prevent the situation or slow down the rate of escalation, before the company experiences reputation issues or damage.