Part Two of a Two-part Post (Read Part One)
In the first part of this article, we looked at 6 major principles of good crisis communications. We covered the press, spokespeople, plans, leaders, practicing and monitoring tools. Here are the final 6 principles.
7. Have a central place where employees can go for the latest information.
This could be on your intranet or a hotline. Be careful about what you convey. Assume that someone will likely copy info from the intranet or share the hotline number with bloggers or the media, or share verbally.
In a crisis it’s easy to focus on external communication, leaving your employees in the dark. But a confused and possibly frightened workforce isn’t going to be capable of putting in the effort needed to rise above crisis. Not only will informed employees be more effective, but they can also share critical insights unique to their position or location with higher-ups quickly and easily, making every employee a crisis manager in their own right.
8. Be forthcoming. Don’t lie or spin the truth.
If there is blame, admit it and share what you’re going to do to fix the problem and make sure it doesn’t happen again. People are willing to accept that you made a mistake, even a serious one. What they won’t accept is a liar. Tell the truth, even if it hurts, because it’s going to come out eventually either way.
Offer up a clear and honest admission of the mistake, explain exactly what is being done to set things right, and how you will prevent future incidents. You can’t stop there either; follow through and actually take the actions you promised, or your words will come back to bite you.
9. Have emergency boilerplate language for the early moments of the crisis.
Today’s public calls for near-immediate reporting on just about anything. Even when you have no clue what’s going on it’s important to give the press something to say, so prepare holding statements that effectively state, “We are currently investing all available resources in uncovering what happened and will be happy to share more information with you as it becomes available.” You can also have boilerplate language for specific scenarios.
If you refuse to comment, you can bet that rumor and innuendo will happily jump in to fill the vacuum.
10. Have counter-measures ready if you need to respond to wide-spread rumors.
These days, it’s very likely that damaging rumors will start on social media. To stay on top of this problem, you have to start before a crisis ever hits by getting involved in social media and building an audience and community. Monitor heavily for any mentions that contain incorrect statements and do your best to reply, ideally with a link to your organization’s news page where visitors can find up-to-date and verified information.
Don’t forget to set your social media army to work! Ask followers to help spread the truth and again to (politely) link anyone propagating false information to your organization’s page. Most users are honored to help out a brand they care about.
As far as traditional media goes, if you spot consistent incorrect reporting from an outlet even after you’ve made all efforts to share the facts then it’s time to start documenting and attempting to contact the reporter(s) involved, along their supervising editor. Should you be unsuccessful with that angle, you may be required to seek legal counsel.
11. Social media needs its own crisis communications plan.
We’ve touched on social media in several other sections of the list, but it really deserves its own nod. You would be hard-pressed to find a crisis of any kind from the past several years that hasn’t been discussed on social media, and in a great many the way an organization handled the discussion on Facebook or Twitter determined their standing in the court of public opinion.
You can’t apply the same rules to social media crisis communications as you can traditional media outlets and expect it to work, create a separate plan for how you will use social media in crisis and don’t forget to include hurdles like enraged fans or pages flooded with comments in your crisis simulations.
12. Prepare for the unexpected.
Craft specific plans for foreseeable types of crises, as well as generic plans for broad categories of unpredictable crises. For instance, if you’re running a hospital, at some point you may face a malpractice suit. It might not be as easy, though, to plan for the specifics of, say, lightning striking a transformer down the street and taking out the power to your block.
After creating specific plans for the crises you’d expect, put together some under categories like “power loss” or “employee violence.” While the exact details of each individual situation will obviously vary, determining factors like who’s in charge, where to go, which numbers to call or what to use as backups in advance will save valuable time when a real unpredictable crisis does occur.
Good emergency notification and incident management software allows you to create pre-defined templates for any type of scenario. When an event occurs, select a template and your teams have the people, plans and tasks for that type of event from the start. You can also use the software to test your plans under real-world conditions.