I have been lucky enough to speak at two recent events organised by fire service colleagues. The first was organised by London Fire Brigade and was focused on social media and how different organisations were using it. The second took place a few days ago and was about managing a crisis. I had the opportunity to talk thanks to South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue who had brought partner agencies together.
Reflecting on the two events something was really clear to me. I cannot talk about crisis communication without talking about social media as it is so much a part of day-to-day life. The difficulty for many organisations, and not just those who act as emergency responders, is that they haven’t grasped the daily use of social media. This makes dealing with a crisis even more problematic. I have used the phrase many times ‘you can’t learn about social media when the streets are on fire’ but it is so true.
There are a number of things that I think are essential for organisations to do to prepare for the day when the crisis or emergency appears. They are in no particular order as all are important.
1. Plan, plan, plan
It sounds simple but you need to make sure that you have a crisis communication plan and that you keep it up to date. If it includes roles and responsibilities you have to make sure you update it when the structure changes, when posts are removed or added. The plan needs to reflect how the organisation uses channels of communication including social media. Often developing or updating a crisis plan is not at the top of a to-do list but it is time well spent.
2. Test and test again
Once you have a plan it needs to be put to the test. Exercises are regularly held for emergency responders but not many of these exercises have been able to take social media into account when testing communication plans. It is vital to find a way of including social media as that is where a crisis is likely to break and be played out in a direct way with citizen journalists taking control of information. Communication plans are not just for the communicators. It is important to ensure everyone in the organisation understands what is going to happen, what the priorities are and what part they play when disaster strikes.
3. Share experiences
Thankfully emergencies only come across once in a blue moon, so it is important that we learn from those who have been in the middle of a crisis. We need to understand the dynamics of communication, what worked and more importantly what didn’t work or what went wrong. We have to invest time in learning from others particularly when the day job keeps making demands on our time. Often this can be done through online packages and information or making the most of your connections.
4. Don’t forget the staff
It is very easy to focus on external communication when facing a crisis or emergency situation. However, what you tell your staff and employees is one of the most critical things. It is the front facing staff who will be the ones that will be sharing details of what has happened with customers. Get it right and the way customers discuss what is happening to friends both face-to-face and on social networks will support the communication. Get it wrong and you are likely to have more problems in managing events.
5. Get social now
The final point is that use of social media is something that organisations need to plan and understand when they are not in the middle of a crisis. It is important to understand who is talking about you and where they are doing it. This will help you develop an effective social media strategy. Having conversations and creating networks will be an investment for when the emergency appears. I have said many times that I feel organisations don’t have the luxury of saying they will not engage through social media. The world is moving swiftly and brands can be boosted or damaged on social media the issue is are companies going to be there to see it and act on it?
The two events I had the chance of taking part in helped me to reaffirm how important planning and preparation are, and were also a chance for me to gather some learning from others. How are you learning and planning?