How to Prepare for a Communications Crisis in Your Business

How to Prepare for a Communications Crisis in Your Business

Whether you’re a small craft business or a national chain of retail outlets, your reputation matters. Reviews and ratings of the customers and clients that work with you give credibility to potential customers, and how you respond to negative reviews is particularly important.

There’s an old quote that says “a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.” The internet has given everyone a voice and various platforms to share their opinions; a single negative comment can quickly escalate and become a wildfire before you know it. When you find yourself in a crisis, regardless of the size of your business, poor communications will have a real effect on your bottom line.

Swift action to control the damage before things get out of hand is the best thing you can do to mitigate the impact of the crisis. This is much easier to do if you already have a plan in place to ensure that your messaging aligns with your brand. Today, we’ll walk you through the steps of creating this plan for your business.

Step One: Assess Your Monitoring

How often are your checking in on your social media channels or review sites? Do you monitor posts which use your branded hashtag, or have an alert set up to find messages using your brand name or product names? If you’re looking for a way to automate this process, you can check out this overview of 10 Tools to Monitor Brand Mentions.

Step Two: Write it Down

The longer you wait to respond to a crisis, the worse it may get. Start with preparing a general statement ahead of time to let your fans know that you intend to address their concerns as soon as possible. This can nip rumors and speculation in the bud while also giving you some time to come up with a more specific response. Make sure you follow up as quickly as possible to outline the steps you have taken to address their concerns and the final resolution. Failure to follow up will make your initial response seem insincere – definitely not the message you want to send at this crucial time!

You can also create statements for any common situations that occasionally pop up, such as what customers should do if they receive a defective product, or there is an issue with their shipment. Having a consistent response will reinforce your policies and make it easier to respond quickly to comments online.

Depending on how your business is structured, you need to have other employees or even a lawyer review your responses before posting them publicly; again, here’s where anticipating potential problems and creating responses ahead of time can reduce the amount of time it takes you to respond.

If you’re looking for some advice on customer service, check out our white paper on how to deal with customer complaints, available for free when you sign up for our newsletter.

Step Three: Create a Response Team

If you have a team of employees, make sure to designate a core team with a specific hierarchy. Who will be the primary decision maker in a crisis? Who will be in charge of communications, both external and internal? Everyone involved should have a clearly defined role that they stick to, to ensure that everyone works together to present a unified front. Sole proprietors will likely be their own response team, though you may wish to designate a trusted friend or even hire a lawyer to help you with specific duties.

Make sure your team (or you!) are properly trained on how to handle a crisis: particularly, it’s important that your team knows what to say and how to say it. Inexperience can result in remarks that seem flippant or ignorant, making the situation worse. Try writing down some simple talking points that summarize what happened, apologize for the problem and demonstrate your organization’s commitment to do better. Be sure you keep in mind exactly who you will be speaking to, so you craft a message that is most likely to address their concerns in a complete manner. Share a draft these talking points with anyone in your organization who should have input and, once finalized, send them to everyone on your crisis management team, and anyone who needs to know the company response.

Managing your emotions is also key; when your business is your heart and soul, it can be crushing to read negative remarks about your work or products. Likely, your first reaction will be emotional, and that’s normal – but instead of getting defensive or flustered, find a way to regain your composure before crafting your response.Take a walk, call a good friend to vent, or get your emotions out in a letter that remains unsent.

Step Four: Establish a Notification System

During a PR crisis, you have to be able to communicate quickly and efficiently with your team. Make sure to have multiple points of contact, ranked by importance. For example, a text message or a phone call might be preferred over email.

Eliminate confusion by establishing a system of who to contact (and when). For teams with multiple members or companies with many departments, the management team should be first, with lower-level staff getting notified afterward.

Depending on the size of your company and the extent of the damage, you may have to communicate with everyone in your organization, including hourly employees, who may be tempted to take to social media to vent their frustrations or try to alleviate the issue by explaining things from an “insider’s perspective.” This could backfire and negate the impact of your response, so alerting your employees about the situation and making your policies clear on how or if they should respond is an important part of your strategy.

Step Five: External Communication

How will you communicate with people external to your company? Designate a person responsible for this task and specify what channels are they going to use to disseminate that information, and when. Depending on the situation, this might entail communicating with one individual, notifying past or current customers, or broadcasting your message to a larger audience. Outlining as much of this in advance as possible means the correct person is addressing the public at the appropriate time.

The Bottom Line – Preparation is Crucial

No matter what, you need to be ready for a worst-case scenario. For more resources in building your response plan, check out the online tools that the Public Relations Society of America offers, or contact us today to set up one-on-one consulting.

Leanne Pressly
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