No one wants a crisis. But when a business crisis comes knocking at your door, you need a plan to sort it out. It can be challenging to predict when crises will occur. That is precisely why every business needs to devise a crisis communication plan proactively.
A well-structured crisis plan will help you swiftly deal with unforeseen yet highly destructive situations when they arise instead of simply reacting from your gut during the crisis.
They help safeguard your company’s reputation to the delight of your customers, stakeholders, and employees.
So what are the steps to creating an effective crisis communication plan? Here is a six-step guide:
Step 1: Identify crisis management team members
Identifying a crisis management team is the first step to creating a crisis communication strategy. This team includes those usually at the frontline at times of crisis, such as:
- Hiring managers
- PR professionals
- Heads of departments
For example, the University of Washington notes key crisis management team members in its crisis communication plan:
Each member of your organization has a specific role to play in managing a crisis. For example, if a bug causes the exposure of millions of customers’ data to potential hackers, roles and expected actions may look something like this:
- Programmers and developers may not be expected to address the public. However, they will play a significant role in identifying and resolving the issue.
- The CEO, head of the tech department, or your special PR personnel will be expected to face the public and communicate what’s happening.
- HR may be involved in communicating with your employees to keep them updated on what’s going on and the measures taken to resolve the crisis.
The bottom line is that most people will play a role during a crisis. You shouldn’t wait till the crisis occurs. Identify your crisis management team in advance. Pick your spokesperson and the people they’ll work with. Bring them together through regular meetings to ensure everyone knows their roles and responsibilities.
Step 2: Create a contact list
A contact list allows your crisis management team to communicate easily with all relevant stakeholders during a crisis. Therefore, you first need to know who your key stakeholders are. Once you’ve identified your stakeholders, start building a database with their contact information. We’ll talk about that in the next section.
Your contact list could include:
- Phone numbers
- Personal or business addresses
For security reasons, it should only be accessible on authorization. The contact list could also be made available in hardcopy format in case of electronic jams or network breaches.
Contact list creation is an essential aspect of your crisis communication plan. But it would be best to be careful with these details, as misuse or exposure could have you slammed with a lawsuit.
Step 3: Identify your key stakeholders
Your key stakeholders are those bearing the brunt of any crisis. Let’s say you have a large organization with multiple investors. In such a case, the investors are among the key stakeholders you’ll need to identify.
On the other hand, if you’re a limited liability company (i.e., you have LLC after your business name), you may not have as many stakeholders to worry about besides your customers – which can make things easier. Either way, it’s critical to identify all relevant stakeholders affected by a crisis.
For example, end-users were most affected during the Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram shutdowns. Most business communications worth millions of dollars were stalled.
You should design your crisis communication plan to prioritize these parties and disseminate critical information to them first. Other parties that bear the brunt of any emergency include your investors, partners, and employees.
Personalize your strategy to address each party individually, not robotically. A short statement by Facebook’s crisis management team during the globally known shutdown of Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram on October 4, 2021, perfectly illustrates a personalized message.
The first sentence resonated with users’ pain points and sympathized with their feelings of disconnection from family and friends. This same personalized message might not work for investors and employees. So a separate key message has to be created.
Identifying key stakeholders helps you tailor the suitable measures for each. It allows you to streamline and efficiently execute your communication approach.
Step 4: Put a social media plan in place
About half of the world's population uses one or two social media platforms. Almost 500 million people have come online in the past 12 months. An individual social media user spends more than three hours online.
These stats clearly show that having a social media plan in place is critical for your crisis response.
Consider the use of social media when drafting your crisis communication plan. At the first instance of a crisis, your customers are more likely to share their complaints online before reaching out to you personally. Set up a plan on who will address the complaints raised on social media. Also, you want to know how you’ll use social media during a crisis.
Dedicate a section of your crisis communication team to handling the company’s social media channels. For example, one of your PR personnel can take over the social media channels from your marketing team during a crisis.
As for how to use social media, you can use your channels as a secondary platform for distributing your crisis communications. You can share your press releases and other updates online. Moreover, you can use social media channels to collect feedback from the public and your audience. That brings us to the next point:
Step 5: Create a monitoring and alerts system
It’s difficult to predict a crisis. However, you can still set up a system to detect potential issues leading to a crisis. This can help you prevent crises before they happen.
One way to achieve that is by setting up a monitoring system to track mentions of your brand, key stakeholders, employees, and other aspects of your organization. Once there is a suspicious spike in your social media mentions, malicious news, or queries in other media outlets, an alert system will notify you.
A negative comment from an angry user will certainly plummet your company’s reputation if it goes unaddressed.
Quickly detecting these unusual activities and a well-curated resolution plan will help you get ahead of a potential crisis and solve it at its early stages.
And if you’re already in a crisis, brand monitoring tools can also help you see how well your resolution plan is working. In addition, they’ll help you see what the public and other stakeholders are saying in response to the crisis. This can help you adjust your resolution strategy accordingly.
The tools may also help you identify misinformation about the crisis. Be sure to address the misinformation to prevent further reputational damage.
Step 6: Establish internal procedures
Internal procedures explain how your brand will respond (internally) during a crisis. For example, consider questions such as:
- Who’ll be the first person alerted about the crisis?
- When and who will call the crisis management team?
- At what point will the employees be alerted about the crisis, and through what channels?
These are some of the internal procedures you’ll need to note down in your crisis communication plan.
Ideally, the first person notified when a crisis occurs is the CEO, who then calls the crisis management team. From there, the process of resolving the crisis and creating press releases should follow.
Internal procedures streamline the response cycle and help your crisis management team to do their job efficiently. It reduces the external pressure that typically comes with a crisis since most workflows will already be laid out for your team.
No business is immune to crises. Therefore, you need a crisis communication plan to prepare, prevent, and resolve them.
Build an effective management team to respond as soon as possible. And figure out your key stakeholders that must be addressed during a crisis. You also want to create a contact list with details for all stakeholders. Next, set a social media plan in place and establish your internal procedures. Finally, invest in a monitoring and alert system.
Follow these tips to create a crisis communication plan that’ll get you through any crisis.