It does seem like East Tennessee has had its fair share of crises here lately, which has reminded us – once again – of how important it is to have contingency plans in place for when the worst happens.
Cathy’s latest Knoxville News Sentinel column covers crisis communications, how it has changed over the past few years, with the growing influence of social media and steps businesses need to take to ensure they have an up-to-date plan.
The full text of the column is available below as well:
Spread the word to help ease crisis
Some would say that last year was hit with an unusually large number of crises – environmental, societal, political, etc. Our firm found itself in the middle of several major negative events which allowed us to assist in hopefully making a positive difference, but which also tested us and our clients in new and different ways.
So what did we collectively learn? Here are a few takeaways:
- Multiple channels of communication must be employed. No longer can organizations rely only on traditional means of getting their critical information out in times of crisis. In particular, good crisis communications plans must always contain a strong, well-conceived social media component. Social media platforms are increasingly becoming the No. 1 way that people find out about news first. Additionally, an organization’s “friends and fans” can materially assist them in getting important messages out in real time. Social media can and should be a cornerstone of how we communicate about negative, need-to-know situations. If your crisis management plan doesn’t contain this component, fix that ASAP.
- Time is of the essence. We have always encouraged our clients to move quickly in terms of recognizing and proactively addressing a crisis or potential crisis, but timeliness is more important than ever. Because of the growing proliferation of “citizen journalists” with cellphones taking photos of and recording everything – accompanied by their own opinions and ongoing commentary – it is important for the organizations which “own” the actual crisis to respond as quickly as possible with their explanations of what happened and why. Don’t leave critical voids left to be filled with possible misinformation.
- Get on the same page. A true crisis calls for the entire organization to circle up and determine a consistent response regarding the situation or event. It’s important to be fast in responding, but it’s just as important to be consistent. (However, you do not have the luxury of going through a bureaucratic and time-consuming process of message determination. Cut through any layers of bureaucracy and get all the relevant parties in the same room at the same time in order to act expediently.)
- Kick into your pre-determined roles the minute the negative situation occurs. This, of course, can only be done if your organization has a crisis plan that you have reviewed and rehearsed well in advance. You should already know who your primary spokesperson is, who your subject matter experts are, who will do behind-the-scenes research to provide periodic updates, who will be monitoring news coverage, etc. The time to determine (and practice) these roles is not when the crisis hits. It is way beforehand.
- Be flexible and adaptable. Use your crisis communications plan as the basic framework for your response, but keep in mind that a real crisis is a moving target which usually involves continual adaptation as follow-on events occur. Rare is the crisis that is a “one and done” event. Most crisis situations begin with a “big bang” but then continue to evolve and unfold over a period of time. So know your plan, but also be prepared to adjust it as you go along.
None of us know what 2017 has in store for us. Hopefully, it will be mostly positive. But just in case it isn’t, I encourage you to be prepared. Unexpected crises can occur in the blink of an eye, so it’s critical to have a plan and to be ready to kick into high gear if needed.