By the definition, crisis is any situation that is threatening or could threaten to harm people or property, seriously interrupt business and significantly damage reputation. Timothy Coombs in his book “Ongoing Crisis Communications” (that we recommend you to read) said – No organisation is immune to the crisis.
In today’s world of social media, days of playing ostrich and burying your head in the sand when crisis hits, with great hopes that it will goes away are gone, they were gone 5 years ago, and certainly they are gone today. Well, you can try, but in recent examples, like with Volkswagen, you really can’t.
It is not a question will your business have some kind of a crisis, but when will it happen, and what to do about it. Every company, being B2B or B2C is opened on social media, if it is a small business, it has profiles on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, you name it. All in marketing purposes, but also, communications purposes.
When the crisis hits
When the crisis hits, the communication becomes crisis communication, and the crisis communication is sub-specialty of the public relations profession that is designed to protect and defend an individual, company, or organisation facing a public challenge to its reputation.
Crisis communication is the collection, processing, and dissemination of information required to address a crisis situation. And the most important thing that you will read here, is that in times of crisis, it doesn’t matter what really happened and how, but what is the perception of the event – what most people think happened.
Large companies think about that all the time, but what is about small and medium business? They should think about that, because, when crisis hits, you need a planned approach, basically, you need a plan. In that situation, there is no time to think what to do, there is only time to carefully execute the plan that you stored before and play it by the book.
Crisis communication plan
The crisis communication plan is a simple document, that we like to call it “live” document as it constantly changes. But have in mind that every crisis communication plan needs to answer 4 basic questions:
1. Who does what?
It’s 4:30 p.m. on a Friday afternoon prior to a long weekend and a crisis strikes. Who do you call?
2. How do we do it?
Time is crucial, don’t wait to long to respond. Each second that passes is a missed opportunity to communicate.
3. Who speaks on behalf of the company?
Imagine scenario like this, the media is literally beating down your doors. Do you pretend that you’re not home, or do you take control of the media narrative by putting the right person in front of the camera? Most importantly, that right person need some basic media training, so he/she knows how to behave in front of the camera.
4. What do we say?
What is the key message, what we want to share with general public? Don’t forget, in time of crisis people want to know that you care, more than they care what you know. Will Rogers once said that.
One important thing, anticipate crisis. When you know, who in your company is crisis communication team, gather that team for some intensive workshops of writing all potential crisis that can hit your company. Write them down, categorise them by the severity and then start writing how to address each crisis.
The message must answer these 3 questions:
- What happened?
- What are you doing?
- What are you going to do?
The tone must be honest and compassionate.
The crisis doesn’t always need to be that severe, even a several bad reviews of your business on social media is potential crisis for your business reputation if you don’t address them.
Example – Coffee shop
Imagine you had a customer who had your perfect coup of coffee and your famous croissant for breakfast. At the end of the day, that person got abdominal pain, and blames you for that pain. Leaves you a bad comment on Facebook page, and writes a large Facebook status tagging you as the source of that problem.
People are getting to see that, like it, share it and comment it. So, the perception that is becoming more and more presence is that you have bad health standards and you make bad croissants. Now, you need to act, this is a crisis for your business.
In that kind of a situation, you need a crisis communication plan, you need to act immediately before it spreads around.
Conclusion – you are safe now
Don’t be scared, crisis will happen, and it doesn’t mean that it will reflect negatively on your business. There are many examples where business even got their reputation higher after the crisis. Just because they acted planned and humanly responded. Don’t overreact and don’t underreact. React as you would react if it is you, not your business. People often forgot to be human in those situations and always look for others as they are enemies. One more thing, media is not your enemy in that situation, it is your closest friend, the only friend you have in crisis communication, don’t forget that.
Last thing, don’t forget to train this, from communication plan to spokesperson media training.