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Brand Crisis Management: How to Protect Your Brand When Things Go Viral

Guest Author

January 18, 2021  •  5 min read

While you can do your best to prevent a brand crisis, no company is completely immune to all the things that can go wrong. At any given time, you could be facing labor and employment issues; corporate restructuring and bankruptcy; leadership changes; data breaches; financial mismanagement; product, environmental, and safety issues; and criminal allegations.

It’s during these times of uncertainty that we see companies at their very best (or their very worst)—and the difference is often made by whether they have a solid brand crisis management strategy in place.

And while large, negative events will always pose a challenge, an important new consideration is how companies respond to small-scale incidents and interactions.

While not every negative customer review constitutes a crisis, for example, a single one can escalate into a real problem if it’s ignored or handled poorly.

Even a minor issue or incident can turn into something more serious if a company doesn’t address it in a timely manner. If you don’t nip it in the bud right away, social media will allow the issue to grow even bigger and become harder to control. This is an essential dynamic to account for in any brand crisis management plan.

Here’s the good news: With the right people, processes, and technology in place, companies can use social channels to mitigate a crisis (instead of exacerbating it). That said, organizations also need to manage media relations across multiple fronts—including print, broadcast, online, and social—if they want to reduce the negative impact a crisis can have on business finances and brand image.

There are myriad factors to each one, but above all, a company’s crisis management plan must consider how it will restore the trust it once had from customers and shareholders. Here are some tips for mapping out a bulletproof crisis management plan.

3 Top Tips for a Better Brand Crisis Management Plan

1. Be Proactive and Identify Weaknesses Before A Crisis Hits

Work closely with senior management, IT, HR, legal counsel, communications, operations, outside advisors, and other experts across the business. Continually assess the extent and potential impact of your risks and to secure your vulnerabilities. It can be painful to identify weaknesses within your organization, but knowing what might go wrong is a crucial element of any crisis preparedness plan.

To ensure that you are constantly assessing internal risks, make crisis preparedness a standing item on the board or risk committee agenda. Map out the main threats along with their potential size and impact, and develop corresponding plans for how to address them.

On a more tactical level, consider the following aspects of your crisis management strategy: who needs to be informed; your response and escalation protocols; preparing a dark site; creating a response matrix across social channels; internal communication cascades; regulatory statements; basic logistics such as the “war room”, contact numbers, and media lists; and preparing how you will mobilize resources on short notice and continue communication with customers and employees.

These can be dry, cumbersome tasks, but they can serve as the difference between a company collapsing or successfully getting through a crisis.

2. Give Your People the Power to Effectively Manage a Crisis

Invest in education and training for your staff, customers, and suppliers. Run through mock crisis scenarios to solidify lines of communication and establish a clear chain of command.

With a proper system in place, develop base messaging documents that can be quickly adjusted and deployed in the case of a crisis. Ensure that public-facing employees are armed with a consistent set of messages which reflect that the company has acknowledged the situation and is working hard to remedy it.

Use technical language in these documents when you need to be precise, but make sure that the message is clear and accessible—and easy for a wide audience to understand. Displaying empathy and humanity during a crisis is critical, and using hyper-technical language will only prevent you from doing so.

3. Equip Your Social Team With the Tools to Win

Pre-existing strategies and processes are critical during a crisis, but it’s equally important for employees to have the tools to execute properly—especially in our social-centric world. Lock down your company’s social compliance infrastructure, including role-based permissions, a kill switch, and the ability to post in multiple languages.

It’s also necessary to have a comprehensive social listening tool that allows your social team to keep track of what people are saying about a particular situation. Check your keyword queries on a regular basis and ensure that alerts and data are aligned to existing platforms in order to centralize monitoring and response across your business.

Social listening drives up-to-the-minute knowledge, which in turn provides the power for an informed, well-crafted response.

Above All: Practice, Practice, Practice

The tips above are important, but if I had to choose just one piece of advice to give you right now, it would be to prepare and practice, and then prepare some more.

While it’s often the sectors that are perceived as the most stable and trustworthy that are the most vulnerable to breaches and other types of crisis, every organization should be prepared long before a crisis hits. Here’s why: It’s safe to assume by now that your company will face some kind of crisis—even if you have military grade IT security in place. According to security researchers at IBM, 95% of successful hack attacks were because of some type of human error.

It’s also very easy for issues—even the critical ones—to go unnoticed for a while. By the time you do notice, it’s usually too late. The damage has been done and you have some serious work to do. So, it’s essential that you don’t wait for a disaster to hit before putting a communications plan in place.

Given the recent crises that have drawn countless national headlines, it’s never been more clear that taking action in the short-term can prevent a whole lot of trouble down the road.

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