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TODD SMITH: Master your crisis communications online



You have to do more these days to shift into gear when a crisis arises. It has to be a combination of positive PR, comprehensive and transparent messaging and a carefully articulated response statement – and in today’s fast-paced, plugged-in world, it must absolutely include a strategic social media response.

With nearly two-thirds of American adults on social networking sites, your brand needs to cast a wider net with its communication — or risk being swallowed whole by a crisis.

A crisis can spread in a matter of moments online. However, if your brand is there to suppress the flames, you can stop it in its tracks. How? By keeping your eyes and ears open, planning ahead and responding accordingly, your brand won’t just be able to mitigate a crisis, but you’ll be able to turn it into an opportunity to engage your audience and burnish your reputation.

Here are four steps from the experts at the Public Relations Society of America on building an impactful social crisis communication plan:

1. Plan

Crises are inevitable. Every brand will encounter them, and there’s no way to fully control them. However, according to the American Marketing Association, 90 percent of communication crises can be avoided by planning ahead.

Things happen fast during a crisis, and you don’t want to go into it empty-handed. If you aren’t prepared, you’ll risk losing control of the narrative and then your brand’s reputation could take a hit. Establish protocols within your organization now so that when a crisis hits, you’ll have an idea of what to do and how to do it.

Start by brainstorming all possible crisis scenarios. Determine how each situation could affect your organization and work with your social media and PR teams to develop your crisis strategy.

The first step is to release a statement. This will show your audience that you are aware of the situation. But you don’t need to start completely from scratch. Prepared holding statements will allow you to quickly respond in the moment. Keep it short and to the point, and adjust the statement as needed for the individual situation.

Identify who your spokespeople will be during a crisis and develop escalation protocols. Who needs to be involved or alerted? Who should respond? This will largely depend on the type of crisis.

For smaller crises, such as a complaint on a review site, your customer service representatives will respond. For larger ones, or if a crisis grows, such as a major scandal or disaster, management may need to get involved. Use your judgment on when to involve your executive team and when they should be the ones to respond.

Remember, your crisis communication plan will be a helpful guideline in the moment, but you should continue to adjust your strategy as needed. What works for one crisis will not always work for another.

2. Monitor

Identifying crises as they happen is invaluable to your brand. The sooner you can recognize a crisis, the sooner you can react and get ahead of the issue. To do so, you need to watch and listen to social conversations. Use social monitoring software to tune in to what people are saying about your brand.

Track mentions of your brand and competitors as well as your product name and industry keywords. Remember, not all mentions of your company will include your social media handle – they may not even include your brand’s name. Track all possible instances where your brand could appear.

You’ll also want to look at velocity when monitoring social media. How often is your brand being mentioned? If you normally get 20 mentions per day, and one day you get 100, you’ll want to look into the reason why. This could be an indication you have a crisis on your hands.

Once you’ve identified a crisis, continue monitoring social media. Track sentiment related to your brand to see the impact your communication is having on your audience and on the situation. If a message is resulting in more complaints, you’ll want to change your approach.

Once you’ve passed the danger zone of a crisis, you still aren’t off the hook for monitoring. Keep listening to ensure the crisis doesn’t get a second wind and continue to keep an eye out for future ones.

This is just the tip of the crisis iceberg, so let it be the foundation for a consistent, long-term approach.

3. Respond

The worst thing you can do in a crisis is remain silent. Your audience is looking to your brand for information and guidance. It’s important to jump on the issue and control the narrative, because if you don’t, someone else will.

Start by acknowledging the issue. Even if you don’t have much information, a simple statement saying, “we are aware” will show your audience that you recognize the situation and are taking action. Be transparent and open. This is the fastest way to mitigate and stop the crisis.

After you’ve acknowledged people’s frustrations, apologize. This is a difficult but necessary step. By doing so, you show that your brand cares and empathizes with its audience. If you’ve planned ahead, then you’ll have a response ready, which will make it easy to act quickly. Adapt your holding statements to the crisis at hand and tailor them for your audience and platform.

Go to wherever the crisis first started. If it was on Facebook, then publish your statement there. Keep your messaging consistent across platforms, but adapt the communication to suit the channel. Use it in your media statements, message points and talking points, too!

4. Review

Once the fire has been extinguished, it’s time to see how you did. Track the results of your crisis communication and determine how successful your strategy was. No two crises are the same, but how you fared in one can provide guidance on how you can improve your strategy for the next one.

Let data tell the story. Enlist the help of a team of analysts to gain further insight. Which messages resonated most? Which ones helped quell the crisis, and which ones resulted in further complaints? Being able to identify your most successful messages will help you develop future communication.

Your data will also show stakeholders the impact on your brand. While a crisis is never a good thing, you can show the value of your communication strategy and how the conversation shifted based on your messaging.

Make adjustments to your strategy based on the data you’ve gathered. The time will come when you’ll need it again, and with the right tools and tactics, your brand will be prepared to weather the storm when crisis strikes.

Silver Mic | Happy 25th Birthday, Internet!

On August 23, 1991 – a little more than 25 years ago – the public gained access for the first time to the World Wide Web, designed and deployed by computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee at CERN in Switzerland.

It gave rise to the Internet as we know and use it today – and it has transformed our world and every way we live!

The Internet and the World Wide Web are not interchangeable. The Internet was first connected in 1969, and refers to the network that carries information between nodes. The World Wide Web refers to the space on this network where information, such as web pages and documents, are stored.

Think of the World Wide Web as neurons, and the Internet as synapses. And just like the connectivity of our nervous system it keeps our modern tech world in motion. For that, Berners and his visionary band of Swiss scientists, take a gleaming Silver Mic!

» Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, and follow him @spinsurgeon.


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