When the inevitable happens and the company or business that we are working for faces a crisis are we going to be ready to face it head on, deal with it and come through it relatively unscathed? It was interesting this week when at the Communicate magazine event in London on Thursday to do a role play – the social media simulator.
The session gave a taste of the simulator which involves a crisis that emerges through social media moves into the mainstream media and grows if it is not managed efficiently. While it was a fictional company and scenario there were some simple messages. It is the same messages that I have held close throughout the past two years when facing a crisis or emergency situation.
Firstly, don’t ignore a crisis or problem particularly when it emerges on social media. For any company the situation is unlikely to go away and if you are seen to be behind the curve and slow to respond the criticism is likely to be louder. The key is to try to act early to prevent the situation snowballing and becoming larger. Obviously if the crisis is something outside your control the speed of your response may not be able to defuse the situation, but it will stand up to scrutiny in the aftermath of the event.
Secondly, and really importantly be honest in your response. Don’t try to hide from what is happening but clearly express the view of the situation and do it in an open and transparent way. As always be sure your lies will find you out. If you try to cover things up, hide things, or are not honest in your response it may become a story in itself.
Thirdly, you have to do something, you have to take some action. It is never going to be enough to say things you have to do things. If the crisis is a reputational issue that is playing out in the media or through social media taking some action is even more important. Are you able to do something to show you are dealing with what is happening in a decisive way?
Finally, make sure that you are still dealing with the crisis effectively long after it has disappeared. There will be lots of comment even after the crisis point has been reached and overtaken, which requires communication to be maintained. You have to deal with the aftermath and any outstanding issues. If you have faced a reputational issue then be assured that it may be diminished but there will still be many months or years that require careful management to prevent it re-emerging or being replayed again and again.
The issue for anyone working in communication and public relations is are you able to respond to the crisis? Can you recognise something emerging? Are you able to develop a plan swiftly to try to tackle things in the early stages? Do you have the necessary systems to make things happen?
It may happen late on a Friday, early on a Sunday or even on a Monday morning and they don’t always arrive announced. You have to be alive to the potential and no matter how long it takes be ready to respond and deal with things decisively. Simple really!