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Crisis Communication Strategies: A C-Suite Guide

The internet never sleeps, and neither does brand risk!

24 hours a day, 7 days a week, brands are under constant scrutiny from internal & external stakeholders, peers, competitors, media outlets, bloggers, and the general public. The viral nature of information on social media may cause unintended harm. From fake news and social media faux pas to data breaches and online harassment, every brand is at risk.

How Prepared Are You For a Crisis?

69%

business leaders have experienced a crisis in the last five years, and nearly all reported that effective crisis communication strategies were crucial in managing the crisis.

Source: a PwC study

It’s not a matter of if a digital crisis will impact your brand, but when. You should not wait until you’re in a crisis to come up with a plan. A tight and effective crisis communication strategy comes in handy to anticipating and swiftly addressing whatever crisis your brand stumbles into. A single misstep can overshadow years of hard work.

This blog offers a comprehensive guide to crisis communication strategies you can use to counter crises and safeguard your brand’s image in a hyper-connected world

What Makes Digital Crises Unique?

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Information overload: The digital world is characterized by voluminous information that can overwhelm stakeholders, making it hard to discern facts from misinformation.

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Speedy Dissemination: In this age and time, information, both good and bad, is spread at a high speed and can go viral within minutes.

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Heightened public scrutiny: Due to increased social media use and the prevalence of online platforms, brand visibility is always at an all-time high; any sort of public commentary can make a brand trend for the wrong reasons.

Crisis Management Strategies

1.

Crisis Preparedness

Build a Strong, Consistent Online Presence

A strong online presence allows you to take charge of your brand narrative. It enables you to shape your reputation and establish credibility among your target audience, which builds a foundation of authenticity, trust, and loyalty. This robust presence will vindicate your integrity during a crisis, making you stand tall even as you wade through the chaos.

Ensuring your online presence reflects your true values and mission can help maintain public trust even when challenges arise.

Define a Crisis Communication Team

Successful crisis communication is a collective effort of top leadership, internal communications teams, and public relations specialists.

You need to build a robust team that will implement your crisis communication strategy, so it’s important to:

  • Carefully identify members of the team.
  • Clearly define the roles and responsibilities of each team member.

Conduct Risk Assessment

It’s impossible to prepare for what you don’t know, that’s why a crucial part of crisis communication planning is identification and assessment.

There are a myriad of crises in the digital landscape that stem even from the tiniest of aggressions. The most common ones are:

1.

Public Relations Blunders

  • Insensitive remarks: These stem from a place of ignorance and will get you canceled instantly
  • Hate speech: Hate speech and intolerance are often the causes of violence and even wars. In the digital world, these often take the forms of defamatory remarks, often in writing or speech – Libel and slander, respectively. These remarks can incite backlash and uprising against your brand.
  • Controversial statements and adverts: Controversy is a double-edged sword in branding. While it can increase visibility and boost engagement, this buzz is only short-lived. It can cause irreparable damage by alienating audiences, causing immense reputational damage, and even imposing legal and ethical implications on your brand.

2.

Social Media Meltdowns

These are raging online fires that result from misinterpreted information such as comments that have been blown out of proportion. Like insensitive remarks and controversies, meltdowns escalate into social scandals that paint your brand image negatively.

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One prominent example is the Starbucks incident in 2018, where two African American men were arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks while waiting for a friend. The ordeal was captured on video and quickly went viral, sparking widespread outrage and accusations of racial bias against the company. The situation escalated into a significant social scandal, severely tarnishing Starbucks’ brand image

3.

Product Recalls and Transparency Errors

Product failures and quality assurance mishaps are critical crises in the digital age. Quality is a basic necessity and transparency in your product and service dealings is upheld. Defective products, recalls, and sub-standard services ruin your domain authority as your stakeholders will find themselves trusting you less and less and seeking reliability and quality elsewhere.

4.

Customer Relations Crises

As John Wanamaker acknowledged, “the customer is always king.” Failing to treat a customer like the royalty they are is a recipe for crisis. It sparks social media meltdowns and even causes other detrimental impacts like getting canceled.

5.

Employee Relations Crises

While most risks are majorly a result of external influences, internal challenges such as managing your employees poorly can morph into crises. The digital world emphasizes employee satisfaction and empathy; anything less than that can earn you mistrust from your stakeholders and the general public.

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Such employee-related crises can become dire. In December 2021, Amazon was subjected to intense criticism after allegedly forcing its workers to continue working despite tornado warnings, resulting in a tornado ravaging one of its warehouses in Edwardsville, Illinois, and killing six people. This brought Amazon’s health and safety principles under probe.

6.

Negative Media Coverage

Brands and negative press don’t go hand in hand. While the old adage holds that all publicity is good publicity, negative media tarnishes a brand’s image. It breaks your audience’s trust and could attract regulatory consequences.

7.

Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities

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Since society transitioned to the digital age, cybersecurity crises such as data privacy breaches and hacking have been on the rise. These are unethical and completely turn off stakeholders.

8.

Environmental Responsibility Crises

Sustainability is a pressing issue in this digital age that demands collective and immediate attention. Neglecting your Corporate, Social, and Environmental Responsibility (CSER) ruins brand equity.

9.

Brand Partnership Crises

Brand alliances are inherently risky. The peril is greater in the digital world as co-brands are exposed to spillover that poses reputational threats.

10.

Technological Failures

Crises in the digital world can also arise from technical failures such as malfunctioning apps, outdated systems, and slow and crashed websites. These disrupt flows of work and inconvenience stakeholders, casting uncertainties on your credibility.

Develop Crisis Communication Strategies

While most crises are unprecedented, having crisis management strategies for them `is necessary. This means coming up with a crisis communication plan.

Take into account important elements like:

  • The goal of the plan, which is effective crisis communication management
  • Your crisis communication team
  • The specific steps you’ll take during the crisis

Craft Crisis Communication Templates

Different crises call for different forms of communication. Curate varying communication plan templates for easy release with specific considerations for each upheaval.

Equip Your Team on Communication Strategies

Once you’ve formulated a plan, you need to ensure that your team is well-prepared and fully versed in the strategies.

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Conduct regular crisis communication training sessions to ensure your crisis response team is updated with the latest strategies and that each one of them can effectively use the provided tools.

Perform regular simulations as well to ascertain the readiness of your spokespersons to respond to crises effectively. This will help you reinforce the strategies and ensure preparedness.

Finally, ensure that crisis communication tools are available, efficient, and easily accessible to the team.

2.

Response

Action: Communicate Promptly and Transparently

When responding to a crisis, speed and accuracy are indispensable. Your initial response to a crisis shapes the public’s perception of your brand.

Once you’ve gathered enough information about the crisis at hand, issue a prompt and effective public statement within the first 24 hours to clear the air or quell upheaval.

Here, mobilize your crisis team to follow the pre-determined crisis protocol and bring the situation under control.

a crisis response message on paper

One of the most notable examples of effective crisis response is Johnson & Johnson’s handling of the Tylenol crisis of 1982. After 7 people died from cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules, the company acted swiftly. They immediately halted production, issued a nationwide recall of the product, and communicated transparently with the public. Within the first 24 hours, Johnson & Johnson issued public statements reassuring customers of their commitment to safety and outlining the steps they were taking to address the crisis. This prompt and effective response helped preserve the company’s reputation and restored consumer trust.

Put your Stakeholders First

When a crisis strikes, your employees, customers, investors, board members, partners, and other stakeholders are also impacted by it. So as you respond to it, keep them updated on the mitigation measures you’re taking and the progress you’ve made. This boosts their confidence in you and garners more support for your crisis management efforts.

Implement Integrated Communication

Use multi-channel communication to disseminate information effectively. Set up a crisis communications page on your website to serve as a central hub for updates. Additionally, identify other channels of communication you can use such as email and traditional media, and maximize their reach to update your stakeholders and amplify your message.

Use Social Media as a Crisis Communication Tool

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Social media is a powerful tool for crisis communication. Most brands use social media platforms to share updates and push notifications on different things, including responding to crises.

This gives you the advantage of virality, where through shares and reshares, your stand on different matters will be communicated across channels and platforms, quelling resistance or shaping a positive opinion about your brand.

3.

Post-Crisis: Takeaways

Just like in any project, post-crisis analysis is an important crisis communication strategy.

Review and Analysis

Here are a few questions to ask yourself and your team while performing the post-crisis evaluation:

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  • What crisis were we responding to?
  • What strengths did we display during the crisis?
  • What were our weaknesses?
  • What part of our crisis communication strategies do we need to revisit?
  • How can we respond differently next time?

You need to review your team’s response once a crisis is over to identify the hits and misses of your crisis management strategy. This post-crisis evaluation will help you understand your team’s effectiveness and draw valuable lessons for future preparedness.

Don’t forget to seek the insights of stakeholders as well. They’ll widen your perspective and give valuable insights; their input is invaluable.

Amend Crisis Management Strategies

Based on the takeaways from your post-analysis review, revise your crisis plan. Then conduct newer training and simulations for the updated strategy to ensure your team is well-informed and on board.

Re-Elevate Your Brand

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Finally, embark on reclaiming your brand’s credibility. Launch public relations campaigns to rebuild your brand image. Win back loyalty and trust by moving with authenticity and assuring your stakeholders of better experiences and continuous learning.

In addition to having a well laid out plan, remember to:

  • Stay vigilant. Leverage technology to conduct social listening and risk assessment and remain abreast of sparks flying.
  • Make use of third-party partnerships such as influencers to amplify your brand’s value.
  • Forge good relationships with the media. Favorable PR boosts brand visibility and trustworthiness.

Counter Crisis with Resilience!

A crisis communication plan is a necessity for you. The strategies we’ve shared above are surefire in helping you take charge of your story. We have tested them over the two decades we’ve been leading executive branding and online reputation management, and confidently recommend them for your use.

Want to manage your brand on your terms? Talk to us today and we’ll help you effectively use social listening to manage potential risks to your online presence and establish a robust digital footprint.

Marion is a passionate Writer and Editor with an academic background in Environmental Management, Climate Change Resilience, and Sustainability Capacity Building. She is passionate about copywriting and editing for the ever-growing global market. She finds satisfaction in using content to engage with communities through blogs and websites and endeavors each day to make customer satisfaction her first priority. Marion enjoys reading and writing poetry, as well as watching sports.

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