A Step-by-Step Guide to Making a Crisis Communication Plan
69% of business leaders have experienced a corporate crisis in the last few years. Larger companies invest in workforce optimization features to mitigate major crises every year. Companies spend years developing trustworthy brands. They build positive reputations. Unfortunately, those reputations can be fragile.
People have a negative bias. It’s our hard-wired safety mechanic that impacts life and business. Companies take active steps to garner the trust of their customers and the people. The problem is this – we’re always one crisis away from breaking that trust. People naturally focus on that one negative moment over everything else.
For that reason, it’s vital that a company prepares for PR nightmares in advance. It’s a challenge to have successful online community engagement. Traditional news is moving online. Social media channels have become news hubs. 36% of US adults get their news from Facebook. Given the nature of social media, PR crises can develop very quickly. Therefore, you need a plan for your brand to survive if a crisis arises.
This post will provide a step-by-step guide to making a crisis communication plan. It will define crisis communication and outline strategies to follow.
What is crisis communication?
Crisis communication is the practice of protecting your reputation and image from a challenge. It utilizes technology and protocols to enable companies to communicate effectively during a crisis.
A great example of how technology and protocols can assist, an ecommerce business that heavily relies on their inventory tracking can face any number of troubles at any given time. They could utilize a free conference call software like vonage to immediately communicate with their stakeholders in order to inform them and mitigate the impact of a humanitarian crisis.
Here are examples of some crises that companies can face:
- Natural disasters and extreme weather
- Product recalls
- Supply disruptions
- Leadership transition
- Technology failure
- Operations failure
The crises companies can tackle are diverse. Perhaps you’re implementing a new auto attendant through, and the transition is less than smooth and you’re encountering a huge chunk of software bugs. You’ll need to communicate that to your customers and staff using the phone lines. The way your company navigates PR crises impacts how the public views you.
Why do you need a crisis communication plan?
Every company needs a crisis communication plan because it’s a delicate matter. In general, we know that cooler heads prevail. We also understand that people respond to challenges differently. During a crisis, people can panic and act without thinking. In those instances, it’s easy to do irreparable damage to your company’s image.
In the US, the most disruptive crises are out of the company’s control. 22% stem from natural disasters. 13% of disruptions are related to cybercrime. You always want to be one step ahead of a crisis, and that may necessitate a lot of conferencing calls on your team’s end. That way, the company can guide the conversation and mitigate reputational damage.
Steps to making an effective crisis communication plan
It’s challenging to develop crisis communication strategies. That’s because many crises are theoretical until they occur. In some ways, it’s unclear what you should do in different scenarios. That’s why we envision various problems. We take advantage of case studies and prepare potential action plans.
Step one: prepare for crises
How you prepare for a crisis dictates how your company behaves when it arises. Most companies will face a problem at some point. For example, Ford had to recall hundreds of thousands of its cars in 2021 due to faulty rearview cameras. But Ford’s actions regarding this recall may not have been sufficient as an investigation was launched to find whether the company acted quickly enough.
This is likely to have decreased the public’s trust in the company and deterred potential customer’s from purchasing a car from Ford in the future.
Ideally, a company’s actions and culture should be clear. When the company’s efforts are in doubt, people need some level of explanation. A company’s reputation can take a significant blow when it handles a crisis poorly. That’s why you must plan for all eventualities.
Create a crisis handling team
During a crisis, your company takes longer to respond without a plan. Meanwhile, other people and institutions can fill the public space with inaccurate information. They can also disseminate information that negatively impacts your branding. By identifying a suitable crisis management team, you can shorten its time to respond to the crisis.
For example, you could be working on no-code automation development, and there’s a malfunction. Your team of senior executives, legal advisors, and subject matter experts can outline several strategies. It’s up to them to set the company’s crisis communication plan on the right course.
Designate a spokesperson
It’s difficult for the public to interpret the correct information when it’s coming from different streams. It’s essential to have a spokesperson during a particular crisis. During the pandemic, everyone became familiar with the American physician Dr. Fauci. He has been the primary spokesperson on the pandemic since it began.
A spokesperson is there to disseminate the correct information directly. They help to ease uncertainty and build rapport with the public. It’s their job to be empathetic during a crisis. They’re good communicators and have substantial first-hand knowledge of the situation.
Outline your team’s hierarchy
Every team requires leadership and structure to succeed. It’s good to discuss possible actions to take, but the company is on a shot-clock when a crisis begins. The media is quick to respond to unfolding information. Your company needs to be faster. That’s why we establish the leadership and roles within our crisis management teams.
A company can quickly respond to a crisis when its team knows what to do. Different team members may focus on separate tasks. However, it helps to have a particular person trained in crisis management who can direct people. You may provide task tracking software. At any moment, if there’s a service disruption, this team can respond immediately.
Step two: Identify crisis situations
Above, we outlined a wide variety of crises that your company could face. Some aspects of your response will change depending on the type of challenge. Your company must have an idea of the types of issues it might face. Assess several possible risks and challenges. This would be beneficial as it will shorten your response times when a problem occurs. For example:
During a staff crisis, your employees could be involved in improper behavior due to a miscommunication. When it comes to light that employees have misbehaved, the public can respond harshly. It will demand the company to address the employees with swift discipline. Afterward, you may need to boost staff enthusiasm. In this instance, your company must uncover what occurred and act with haste.
Alternatively, a company can face trouble for mishandling its workforce. That’s why you constantly look for ways to avoid overworking your employees and want to provide the best workplace environment. For example, as recently as February 2021, Amazon took some flak for employee mistreatment.
It’s good to communicate to provide the best working environment for staff. Enable staff to know where they stand and company expectations. You should know how to measure employee productivity fairly and consistently. Sometimes, your company’s workplace environment or policies are called into question. Know what to say and do to ease the public’s concerns.
Tech crisis or product recalls
Tech crises and malfunctions can be detrimental to your customers. In January 2022, Daimler’s Mercedes Benz informed its customers who own specific models that a techncal fault with coolant pumps could ignite a fire.
However, Daimler’s Mercedes Benz was unable to immediately begin a product recall of the affected models due to a lack of necessary parts that are needed to repair the fault. Instead, customers were advised to drive their cars as little as possible.
Customers who pay a lot of their hard-earned cash to purchase a car from a luxury car manufacturer wouldn’t expect issues such as this to arise and for the manufacturer to not have an immediate solution for the issue. Daimler’s Mercedes Benz’s reputation is likely to have been damaged due to its lack of preparation for such a crisis.
At some point, any company can face service disruptions and product faults. Act quickly to restore the service and ensure the safety of your customers. Communicate the problem and outline the next steps that affected customers need to take. It will help portray the company as one that can overcome any challenges.
Step three: Define protocols
Outline the aims of the crisis communications plan
As a crisis management team, you must outline the aims of your crisis communications plans. In some instances, you will look to provide information. In others, you’re actively looking to mitigate reputational damage. Know your aim, and create a plan around that target.
Define the audience
Like with any communications plan, you must know your target audience. Who are the stakeholders? How can you provide more inclusive public engagement? Should you address your employees? Depending on the crisis, the audience may change. Identify them and prepare your responses to their questions.
Collect the data
Establish a team that will collect the relevant information for your crisis. This team will inform your spokesperson of the real-time data. Utilize monitoring technology that can provide alerts and updates. You need to have facts ready for the media and the public, which will allow your spokesperson to answer questions accurately.
Create strategies for each communications channel
Different communication channels serve varying purposes. On social media, you can give real-time crisis updates. People will be satisfied and offer their input. In a press conference, you may need fact sheets instead. Prepare a plan for each channel.
Step four: Practice responses
You never truly know how your company will respond to a PR challenge. However, with preparation and practice, you can overcome one. Do some drills, and familiarize yourself with your crisis communications plan. You’ll appreciate it when a crisis occurs. Don’t go into a crisis blind. Follow this guide and create an effective plan.