It took less than 15 minutes for an issue at United Airlines to turn into a corporate crisis. Thanks to multiple smartphone videos that captured a confrontation between security and a passenger on board United Flight 3411, this was a global story that continues to gain attention.
The officers who wrestled with the stunned passenger and literally dragged him off the airplane seemed unaware of the many cameras that were recording their every move and how the confrontation appeared not just to the passengers but the wider public who watch the event unfold on social media. In this social media age, this is a blind spot modern businesses cannot afford to have.
Every organisation is vulnerable to crises. The days of playing ostrich—burying your head in the sand and hoping the problem goes away–are gone. Crisis management should not merely be reactionary; it should also consist of preventative measures and preparation in anticipation of potential crises. Effective crisis management has the potential to greatly reduce the amount of damage the organization receives as a result of the crisis.
The following steps can help you limit potential damage in a crisis:
The first step is to prepare. Be proactive and arrange an intensive brainstorming session to go through all the potential crises that could occur at your organisation. The simple rule of thumb is to accept Murphy’s Law, “What can go wrong, will go wrong.” However, not only are some situations preventable by simply modifying processes, but this assessment process should lead to the creation of a crisis response plan.
2. Create a plan and test it
The crisis response plan should be tailored for your organisation, and it should include both operational and communications components – in a crisis, what will you do and what will you say? In order to ensure the messages contained in the crisis response plan are delivered effectively and with credibility, it needs to be tested. This is where crisis training and simulations come in, as well as media training for those who could be giving statements and interviews. Most importantly, taking these steps will help ensure you can carry out your response plan in a real-life situation, not just in theory.
3. Identify your crisis communication team
A small team of senior executives should be identified to serve as your organisation’s crisis communications team. Ideally, the CEO will lead the team, with the firm’s top public relations executive and legal counsel as his or her chief advisers, after that the size if the team depends on the needs of your business.
This team should set the communications process for your business. Avoid getting caught out when a staff member, who does not know the whole story, gives a quote to the media or posts on their personal social media, because they didn’t know what to do (or not to do). Make sure a clear process is created and communicated to your staff, channels can include newsletters, employee handbooks and intranet.
4. Establish notification and monitoring systems
Knowing what’s being said about you in traditional and social media, by your employees, customers, and other stakeholders often allows you to catch a negative “trend” that, if unchecked, could turn into a crisis. Likewise, monitoring feedback from stakeholders during a crisis situation allows you to accurately adapt your strategy and tactics. Furthermore, your organisation should have the means to reach the internal and external stakeholders as soon as possible.
5. Communicate, communicate, communicate
The first rule of crisis management is to communicate. Early hours are critical and they set the tone for the duration of the crisis. Be as open as possible; tell what you know and when you became aware of it; explain who is involved and what is being done to fix the situation. Be sure to correct misinformation promptly when it emerges. Remaining silent or appearing removed could enrage the public and other stakeholders.
6. The death of the super injunction
While crisis experts assert that the legal route is still a valid approach to take, from a reputational point of view, it can sometimes do more harm. Taking legal action can be required at times, but be warned it can cause reputational issues if it looks like you have something to hide or if it looks like you’re being greedy. Also, be aware that the legal route takes time. Time is not on your side in a crisis.
7. Post-crisis analysis
After a crisis, formal analysis of what was done well, what could be done better next time and how to improve various elements of your crisis response plan. This is another must-do activity for any crisis communications team. As the crisis comes under control, a company should examine how effective their plan was during the crisis and the impact the incident has had on its employees, brand(s) and reputation. If any of those three have taken a hit, a company may need take steps to address them.