Any business of any size can experience a crisis. Whether you're United Airlines, Six Flags, the corner deli or neighborhood barber, mistakes happen. And, a disgruntled customer or employee can create major problems for your bottom line. In a communications environment that embraces a 24/7 news cycle and relies on social media, the ramifications of a blunder can quickly grow out of control. Does your business have a plan if your reputation is put on the line? Here are some tips from experts on how to prepare for and respond to crisis.
5 Crisis Communications Tips:
1. Plan in Advance: Taking the time now to plan your response in the face of a crisis saves valuable time later. The first step is to figure out what could go wrong. Not only will this help you prepare for different scenarios, it also may help you take preventative steps to avoid the problems you can foresee. As part of your planning, identify an advisory team that will help manage the crisis, craft responses that can be adapted to fit the situation, and designate a spokesperson who will be authorized to speak for the company (only one person). Preparing a list of loyal customers or supporters who you can call on to defend your company may also come in handy.
2. Get the Facts: When the crisis hits, quickly assemble the team of trusted advisors and communicators along with those closest to the event to assess the facts. Responses should deal only in fact, not emotion, rumor or speculation. Knowing the facts also allows for the correction of false information.
3. Respond Quickly: Reporters have deadlines and social media waits for no one, so it's important to respond quickly, yet not hastily. Being evasive or offering "no comment" suggests there is something to hide. Even if the business is still gathering the facts, it should at least convey that it is aware of the problem, investigating it, and interested in addressing it.
Effective communications in a time of crisis will be sympathetic to victims and sincere in tone. Apologies are often appropriate and are better offered sooner than later, when they may be perceived as forced. To gain the public's trust and confidence, all communications should be honest, transparent and informative. One expert gives good advice about the importance of delivering a clearly defined message that, "establishes a position, offers a clear take on the situation and, where appropriate, reminds the audience why you are great in the first place."
4. Listen: Perception is reality and what the public is saying, however unfair or misguided, cannot be dismissed. A communications team should monitor the chatter and consider how to address the public's concerns and correct false information.
5. Take Action: Actions speak louder than words, so if a business needs to change its policies to ensure better outcomes in the future, it should take concrete steps to do so, and let the public know about it.
No one is immune to an occasional mishap. Making a plan for effective damage control is a worthwhile investment of time to protect your business in the long term.