In any crisis, there are casualties. Externally, there are the direct victims whose lives are impacted by a specific disaster. Then there are the organizational victims—those within a company whose futures rested on their ability to manage the impact of a crisis. Here, the old crisis communications rules no longer apply. Here, it’s a viral age where a camera phone can record and transmit disaster live, as it unfolds. In this fast-moving environment, careers are threatened, budgets over-extended, brands damaged...sometimes beyond repair.
Conversely, in any disaster, there are opportunities...and rewards for the ready.
Champion a New Crisis Management Plan
You’ve seen the recent crisis stories—Imus and the Rutgers women’s basketball team, Jet Blue, Taco Bell—and you’ve experienced how quickly the viral media expanded the stories beyond the reach of the impacted organizations. It’s important that top management reflect on these disasters and how their traditional crisis communications are not equipped to deal with a viral spread of online information.
- Review the current “what if." Review established crisis management plans and point out inadequacies given a viral world where images and commentary can be found online before an internal assessment team can be assembled. If there is no plan, use examples to illustrate the need.
- Sample the buzz. Do an online search of recent relevant disasters and check news sites, blog aggregators and social media including YouTube, Flickr and iTunes. Forward some more graphic examples of poorly managed online buzz.
- Propose some solutions. Give management a plan for developing a new plan and offer to play an active role. Find what has worked recently for others. A white paper on Crisis Management in a Viral Age is available on our website, Oneupweb.com. It should provide a good starting point.
The Crisis Planning Process
Here are the steps that should be part of any crisis planning process:
- Scenario scripting – Collect your peers and brainstorm potential disasters that could happen to your organization. When the lists are completed, you’ll find that they fall into a few definite categories.
- Response Teams – Once you’ve established crisis categories, suggest teams for each, identifying outside resources that may be needed.
- Keyword Generation – Prepare your online response prior to a disaster occurring by creating lists of potential keywords that might appear during a search for particular kinds of disasters. Your press releases, online video statements, paid advertising and blogs can easily incorporate these.
- Optimizing for Benign Keywords – Begin optimizing your current sites, PR, blogs etc., to include certain benign keywords that might be searched in a future crisis. This will prevent delays in achieving a position on those terms.
- Pre-Plan Pay-Per-Click Campaign Creative – Conceptualize likely scenarios in your major categories and develop creative campaigns for an online and offline response. Test them with a focus group audience and archive your best campaigns in each category so you can roll them out at a moment’s notice.
- Identify the Social Media Landscape – Your PR department should have a handle on the industry analysts, key reporters, publications and bloggers to be reached in a crisis. It’s equally important to know the social media sites, chat rooms and directories where potentially damaging material may appear.
- Video B-Roll – Background video (B-Roll) of a company during a news story can leave a lasting impression. News media stuck with deadlines and decreasing production budgets may welcome the footage. Maintain a good B-Roll library. It will also aid the rapid production of crisis video news releases or statements.
5 Ways to Leverage the Experience
After a crisis is weathered, here are five ways you and your organization can profit from the experience:
- By using carefully placed search marketing, you can position your organization as stronger and more attuned with its employees and customers.
- Through podcasting, company executives can speak personally and authoritatively about the proactive measures that can be taken to manage a crisis.
- Handled and positioned correctly, you may enjoy a “halo effect” identifying your company as one with exceptional concern for the welfare of the public.
- At minimum, a post-crisis analysis should lead to a process that learns from and corrects your mistakes.
- Finally, if you’ve responded to the challenge integrating the best viral avenues available, you and your organization will be perceived as a leader, attuned to the new realities and opportunities in a changing marketplace.