Conduct a quick search for crisis communication best practices and you’ll have a legion of articles at your fingertips underscoring the importance of rapid response, widespread dissemination of available information, and an overall weighty bent for speed and ample communication.
These principles are merited, particularly in the age of social media and the 24-hour news cycle. An often overlooked issue, however, is defining a crisis prior to deployment of these tactics.
The rise of social media use is changing consumer behavior, including how audiences make their voices heard with companies. Ten years ago, someone with an issue, complaint or opinion may not have taken the time to craft a strongly-worded letter or place a phone call. But today, social media makes it easy to communicate directly, quickly – and publicly – with a company.
As a result, companies find it increasingly difficult to distinguish social media issues from full-blown business crises—especially given that many legitimate crises, in fact, begin on and are escalated through social media. Nonetheless, organizations need to think critically about issues before declaring something a “crisis” – a label that can give undue attention and credit to an otherwise minor affair.
The lesson? Before your organization communicates early and often, quickly gather all available facts and evaluate the situation at hand. Determine if it has the common characteristics of a crisis (e.g., operational disruption, loss of control, etc.), monitor it closely, and decide upon a strategic and flexible plan of action (or inaction).
Many companies today receive kudos for using social media to better manage crises and uphold brand reputation, but oft-overlooked are cases in which organizations exacerbate minor problems in response to a small portion of their customer or client base. Should you find your organization contemplating a similar scenario, intelligently evaluate the situation and don’t hesitate to get an outside opinion. We’re listening.