How to manage crisis communication in 2024 (+ checklist)

Vincent Washington

Priyanka Malik

February 2, 20249 min read

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During the beauty pageant Miss Universe 2015, due to last-minute changes, the renowned comedian Steve Harvey accidentally crowned the first runner-up. When he realized his mistake, he didn't wait for someone else to take a fall in the newspapers the next day. He immediately acknowledged the mix-up and apologized. His wit, transparency, and the PR team's efforts helped them deal with the crisis.

Instead of a celebrity, it can be your brand in crisis.

It is challenging to keep calm in a crisis. You get a wave of support requests and can even encounter severe customer rage. You might not have Steve Harvey's wits, but you can still have a crisis communication plan in place to soothe your stakeholders when your product or services have let down your stakeholders.

Table of Contents

What is crisis communication?

A crisis communication plan prepares you to become responsive during adversity and have a ready plan for internal comms when a crisis arises. Since the media paints a picture for the public, any misinformation can impact customers' trust in the brand.

A detailed crisis management plan and a dedicated crisis communication team will help you manage content effectively during an emergency.

Crisis communication Vs Crisis management

Crisis communication and crisis management are closely related concepts and are often used interchangeably. But it's noteworthy that crisis management is a holistic concept spread across three stages:

  1. Pre-crisis: The first phase of crisis management deals with crisis prevention, preparation and training.

  2. Crisis response: In the second phase, the C-suite executives respond to a crisis.

  3. Post-crisis: In the post-crisis phase, organizations consider ways to better prepare for future adversities and fulfill commitments made during the crisis phase.

Crisis communication becomes critical during the crisis and overlaps with the response phase of crisis management. The following illustration highlights the difference between the two concepts.

An image showing different actions required in different phases of crisis

Components of crisis communication

There are three key components of crisis communication:

1. Planning

Planning for crisis aversion and how you will communicate during different emergencies is crucial. Identify your key audience, create an empathetic message and determine the best channels for reaching your audiences.

For example, most e-commerce companies process large volumes of customer data and have exposure to a potential data breach. Such organizations should be ready with a communication plan to curb the damages.

They should be transparent about the breach, apologize to their customers, and share the upcoming strategy to prevent future incidents. They can also provide free identity theft protection to the affected customers. This transparency and willingness to take responsibility will help them maintain the trust of their customers.

2. Response

During a crisis, it is critical to respond quickly and effectively. The first step to handling an emergency is acknowledging it before a twisted picture — like a Chinese whisper reaches your stakeholders.

There must be protocols for crafting, distributing, and monitoring messages throughout the disruption life cycle. You must provide accurate and up-to-date information to your audiences and prepare to handle any negative publicity that may arise.

Although a crisis is often associated with a negative incident, it's noteworthy that an emergency isn't always negative. There can be a lot of positive incidents happening for your brand. But the absence of a crisis communication plan will not allow you to harp on that opportunity and engage with your customers at the moment. So, creating compelling creative content to engage at the moment is equally important.

For example, during the demonetization initiative in India, multiple digital payment applications grabbed it as an opportunity to promote the usage of digital payment methods instead of worrying about cash. The incident proved a boon for digital payment vendors and saw unimaginable adoption, even by small-scale shop owners.

3. Recovery

After a crisis has passed, continue to communicate with your audiences. Provide updates on the situation and let them know the following course of action to prevent future crises.

Why should brands invest in crisis planning?

PwC examined businesses' response to unprecedented social, economic and geopolitical disruption in its Global Crisis Survey 2021. And found that Seven out of 10 organizations had plans to invest in resilience. With higher organizational resilience, brands can confidently avert existential threats in an emergency and manage disruptions better. Investment in crisis planning will have the following favorable outcomes:

  • Protecting brand reputation: A mishandled crisis can damage your brand's reputation, resulting in a loss of trust from your stakeholders. Brand crisis management planning can help mitigate the risks and keep your brand's image and reputation intact.

  • Faster response activation: In a crisis, time is of the essence. Having a crisis communication plan in place can help brands respond quickly and efficiently during any adversity, minimizing its impact.

  • Minimizing losses: A crisis can result in financial losses and loss of revenue. Crisis planning allows you to anticipate threats and gain confidence through muscle memory. You can minimize losses and emerge stronger from crises.

  • Compliance: In some industries, crisis planning is mandatory for regulatory compliance. Brands that fail to comply with these requirements may face heavy fines and legal actions.

  • Competitive advantage: Brands that invest in crisis planning demonstrate their commitment to protecting their customers, employees, and stakeholders. This can enhance their reputation, strengthen customers' trust, and provide a competitive advantage over companies that do not have a crisis plan.

Brand monitoring for brand safety and crisis detection

4 types of crises you must prepare for in 2024

A crisis can occur due to external or internal forces. While you can mitigate a self-inflicted crisis, adversities due to external factors require a detailed strategy. Here are the four types of emergencies you must consider before crisis planning:

1. Executive exposure

C-suite executives are highly influential, and their reputation directly impacts the brand image. Therefore, executives have high exposure and become easy targets. Organizations must develop and implement standard workflows for executive communications to support key executives in visible positions. It will avoid panic during adversities.

2. Positive event

Sometimes, emergencies are positive occurrences that can present your brand in a positive light. Brands must be ready with engaging content and a crisis-agnostic plan to leverage this free exposure.

For example, this holiday season, Oprah’s Favorite Things 2022 mentioned 104 gift items to celebrate the spirit of small businesses. Building on Oprah’s mentions can really help a business to increase brand recall and revenue.

An image showing a still from Oprah's favorite things

3. Negative occurrence

People often voice their opinions on social media and write reviews to share their experiences. Due to this negative incidents such as poor customer experiences, brand negligence, or risky financial decisions can blow up quickly. An effective communication strategy can help you turn around the situation.

For example, when Chick-fil-A replaced their Original BBQ sauce with a new Smokehouse BBQ variant, fans expressed their disappointment on social using #BringBackTheBBQ. Chick-fil-A needed a solution to help them engage with fans in real-time and improve brand sentiment. Using Sprinklr's social listening capabilities, Chick-fil-A successfully relaunched the product and saw the following outcomes:

  • 92% positive fan sentiment

  • 188x increase in Chick-fil-A and BBQ sauce mentions on the day of the return

  • 5,000+ messages responded to or reviewed within the first three days after the announcement

4. Act of God

Situations such as a natural calamity or pandemic are the least expected. Brands can use ‘Act of God’ as an excuse to exonerate themselves from any responsibilities in a crisis. However, if you monitor such a situation with social listening, you can turn it around to create a loyal customer base for your brand.

For example, if a natural disaster causes delays in flights. Instead of leaving its customers amidst all the chaos and inconvenience, the airline company can offer alternate halt arrangements, an option for the next flight or refund their amount as a last resort.

Framework to manage crisis communication

Here is an effective social media crisis management framework to help you keep calm in distressed situations and avoid PR nightmares:

An image showing a checklist to manage crisis communication

1. Crisis identification and business impact

Crisis planning aims to identify risks and mitigate them. Identifying the risks in advance is crucial to find the best course of action when an incident occurs. Risk management with incident response together forms an effective strategy for managing crisis communication.

For example, an entertainment company risks losing significant money if its shows flop. The world’s leading musical theater production company Stage Entertainment used Sprinklr’s AI-powered social listening for concept testing theatrical productions and show selection processes to recover the amount lost during the pandemic. Stage Entertainment saved $65K in the process and saw an adoption rate of 86%.

Stage Entertainment

2. Create a pre-emptive response protocol

When a crisis strikes, free and open communication is the best way to resolve it. Keep your emotions in check while communicating with media personnel or stakeholders. Hiding the crisis or downplaying its impact will hurt a brand's image more than being upfront. Additionally, decide on the communication route by choosing advocacy, influencers, or 3rd-party experts according to the situation.

3. Create a stakeholder list

List your stakeholders based on the type and impact of crises. Internal legal, IT, and security teams must have a clear briefing. Your employees must be responsive to external agencies, partners and major clients to avoid panic.

Discuss the situation and seek their help, if required. Finally, ignoring the media leaves more room for a full-blown PR crisis.

4. Identify and train key spokespersons

Create a cross-functional crisis management team. Appoint a veteran to direct other stakeholders and avoid further damage.

Ensure that your selected spokesperson is always available at the forefront and can answer questions about endangered lives, physical safety, impact on stakeholders, and the required action items. Restrict the possibility of the media contacting other untrained people to seek answers.

5. Integrate with the corporate plan

Business continuity is equally crucial during an emergency. Therefore, leaders must include business processes and activities in the crisis management plan. They must consider whether the company can still perform mission-critical business processes, or they will lose out on revenue.

6. Leverage a CXM solution

Transforming your customer experience management will help you deliver quick contextual responses to your stakeholders, manage change, and measure the impact of your social media crisis management efforts.

For example, during the political turmoil in Afghanistan, ICRC President Peter Maurer needed a clear source of news and insights into public sentiment in a dynamic situation. Sprinklr's social listening tool helped ICRC listen to real-time conversations across all social channels in both English and Pashto to deliver the required assistance.

An image showing how ICRC dealt with the political turmoil in Afghanistan

AI-powered analytics and reporting detected anomalies in unstructured data to filter out misleading claims on fake Red Cross accounts. Sprinklr's Unified Customer Experience Management (Unified-CXM) platform offered a seamless, multilingual, mobile experience so that ICRC could meet its goals remotely.


7. Prepare a sandbox environment

Create atesting environment that mimics the production environment, if required. A sandbox environment keeps the production environment safe by limiting access to system resources and data on a given network.

8. Create a war room

Post-COVID-19 pandemic, brands are still dealing with uncertainty. Therefore, leveraging war room tactics gives you an edge over your competitors. You must create a war room to discuss roles and priorities and explore unconventional solutions.

For example, Amazon sets up war rooms six-nine months before Prime Day to strategize for the prime rush, on-time deliveries and storage facilities. The teams forecast the shipments and discuss their marketing strategies to increase customer share.

An image showing how Amazon Prime Day shopping deals hook the customers

9. Conduct drills and testing

Deloitte suggests that only 32% of organizations engage in crisis simulations and training. Preparedness is really rewarding and helps save lives during natural disasters, utility failures, and geopolitical disturbances.

Testing a crisis management plan is non-negotiable in validating its efficacy. It reveals gaps in the intended flow of operations and ensures that the plan will get executed as designed. Periodic testing and refreshers equip you to be agile and accommodate changes better.

Mitigate brand crisis risks with a complete social media reputation management strategy.

Improve crisis communication with contextual content flow

Crisis Planning will lead you to multiple conversations with your stakeholders. Brands must work on resilience and provide contextual content during crises to improve brand perception, minimize revenue losses, and ensure business continuity.

Talk to our experts to discover how Sprinklr can help you in creating a crisis management strategy that works.

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