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Crisis communications management. The phrase alone can cause a shiver to run down our spine as we silently ask that a crisis never befall us or the organizations we work with. But crisis communications management need not be feared. In fact, it can offer your organization an opportunity to strengthen, build, and unite internal and external stakeholders for a better organization. Crisis communications management begins before a crisis occurs and is an ongoing process that should be built on principles put into practice before, during, and after a crisis. In other words, always. Crisis management is not a one-time situation that may or may not occur. It should be an ongoing process in your day-to-day operations.
With today’s changing communications environment, threats to your brand, reputation or business can come at your organization from anywhere and everywhere—the physical and the virtual space. Processes that only address the physical threats will not protect your company. Today organizations require a 360 plan and crisis management architecture that:
- Encompasses all communications platforms, both as sources of outgoing communication from the company, as well as sources of incoming threats
- Is independent of the passing threat and able to be effectively activated regardless of the situation at hand, whether a downed plane, or a full-on social media attack instigated by a disgruntled customer
- Is based on core principles that are an integral part of the organization’s culture seen, lived, breathed, exemplified, and put into play through core practices from the CEO to the intern
- Is fresh, alive, up-to-date, accepted and familiar
Whether you are just getting started or are reevaluating your current crisis communications plan, there are certain elements that should be considered for a complete and comprehensive program that will strengthen your organization from the inside out. Generally, these elements are a pre-crisis strategy session, pre-crisis plan, crisis processes, crisis manual, crisis training, and updating. For the sake of mapping, we’ll call these your Crisis Management Architecture. In Part 1 of this two-part series we will explore the pre-crisis strategy session and the pre-crisis plan, leaving crisis processes, crisis manual, crisis training, and updating for Part 2.
A. Pre-Crisis Strategy Session
The pre-crisis strategy session is a no-holds-barred, roll-up-your-sleeves workshop from which your organization’s strategic and communications leadership should walk out with, at a minimum, a clear understanding of:
- The Five Core Operating Principles
- Its 360 Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (Yes, SWOT is back but in 3D)
- Resources/Assets (from the high-tech to guerrilla)
- The types of crises your organization could face
- List of hot topics
Most of these are self-explanatory but I will expand upon the first line item as it is central to building the fabric of an organization’s crisis communications safety net.
Five Core Principles:
James Grunig, Professor of Public Relations at the University of Maryland published four principles of crisis communications (Source: The Institute for Public Relations): The Relationship Principle, The Accountability Principle, The Disclosure Principle, and The Symmetrical Communication Principle. I’ve added a fifth principle, The Core Architecture Principle. In detail these are:
1.The Relationship Principle
An organization can withstand both issues and crises better if they have established good, long-term relationships with publics who will be affected from decisions and behaviors of the organization.
Questions to consider:
- How are you building internal and external relationships?
- How do you fortify relationships with your customers beyond the sales process?
- How are your employees building interdepartmental trust relationships with each other outside of happy hour and inside of your organization’s walls?
- How can you build, strengthen, and deepen internal and external relationships?
2. The Accountability Principle
Organizations should accept responsibility/be accountable for a crisis/issue even if it was not their fault.
Questions to consider:
- How does your organization work with ownership and accountability?
- Do you have a culture of standing together and supporting each other or is there a tendency to throw each other “under the bus”?
- How can your organization build and reward a culture of accountability during the good, the bad, and the ugly?
3. The Disclosure Principle
At the time of a crisis/issue, an organization must disclose all that it knows about the crisis or problem involved. If it does not know what happened, then it must provide full disclosure once it has additional information. Provide facts.
Questions to consider:
- What are your internal and external communication guidelines?
- What are your information disclosure parameters?
- How can you instill a culture of transparency?
4. The Symmetrical Communication Principle
At the time of a crisis, an organization must consider the public interest to be at least as important as its own. Public safety, for example, is at least as important as profits. Therefore the organization has no choice other than to engage in true dialogue with its public/audiences and to practice socially responsible behavior when a crisis occurs [as well as before and after].
Questions to consider:
- Whose interests do you currently consider of greatest importance?
- Whose interests should be of greatest importance?
- How do you engage in true dialogue with your stakeholders?
- How does your organization communicate internally and externally?
- What are your corporate communications practices?
- How can you better and more consistently communicate with your stakeholders?
5. The Core Architecture Principle
An effective crisis communications plan must be based on a solid core architecture that allows for the test of time, change in employees, distance, new participants, new issues, unknown situations, etc.
Questions to consider:
- Do you have a crisis communications system?
- Does your current crisis communications system allow you to respond to known issues, as well as unknown issues that may arise?
- Can it withstand a change of employees/power failure/distance between parties? Most importantly, who’s in charge? If that person is not available, then who makes the decisions not only about what to do but what to communicate to the different audiences and through the different communications vehicles? (This is not as simple as it used to be: think traditional media, the spectrum of social media channels, offline customers, email, mail, corporate website, etc.)
B. Pre-Crisis Plan
The Pre-Crisis Plan is meant to create the three-dimensional foundation upon which the crisis communications infrastructure will be built. This plan should identify actions to, at the very least:
- Communicate core principles
- Implement core principles through the Five Core Practices and achieve cultural permeation
- Identify and media-train spokespersons
- Identify and create a crisis team
- Set up internal crisis communications cascades
- Establish threat and crisis thresholds
- Set up internal and external systems, assets, and technologies needed to efficiently respond and communicate when faced with a potential threat or crisis
- Attempt to prevent, halt, or diminish threats before they can become a crisis
- Call for plan and process post-crisis/threat assessment, evaluation, and adjustments as necessary
Stay tuned for Part Two: “Crisis Communications Management (Part 2): The Five Core Practices of Effective Crisis Communications” where we will further explore the Five Core Practices plus the crisis processes, crisis manual, crisis training, and updating.
*A version of this article originally appeared in PR News’ Crisis Management Guidebook, Volume 6.
Authored by Victoria Rossi, CEO and Founder, i-media-international, a NYC-based public relations, digital communications, and social media agency.
Small businesses and startups encounter a different set of challenges than larger companies when it comes to marketing. Resources are scarce and everything has to be leveraged. Enter social media. Leverage is one of the key, if not the key, advantages of social media. Social not only leveled the playing field for small businesses and startups, but also provided an opportunity to showcase attributes not as easily defined or nimbly parlayed in/from larger organizations. These attributes are personality, character, and community.
Surely, you are already active on social media. That much we assume. As you enter Spring 2013, now is a good time to do some spring cleaning on your social media channels and refresh your profiles to prepare for a year of success and opportunity.
There are five questions every small business and startup should ask itself when considering its social media presence. These are…
Who is your audience?
Such a simple question! Such a complex answer! The answer is slightly more complicated than the question because each social media channel has a slightly different use and user. Your content should be geared toward your audience…the questions they are asking, the information they need, the stuff they want to read and talk about. Start by defining your audience as a whole, and then consider which social channels they are most likely to use.
What kind of community do you want to create, if any?
Whether you have an active presence on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, or all of the above, these social channels all allow you to create a virtual community. The focus, cohesiveness, and engagement of the community is up to you. Consider the kind of community you want to create, as well as how much time you are willing to commit to nurturing it. Most importantly, consider your voice. Your voice will be the literal tone of your community and help you forward your objectives for it. Of course, your voice will be mostly determined by your organization’s personality. So, who are you?
What is your organization’s personality?
Ahh, the ultimate question! In my 15 years of experience, I have found this to be one of the most challenging questions businesses of all sizes face. While this wasn’t such a big deal before social media when an organization’s “voice” was only heard in highly produced, hyper-scripted, and very expensive television commercials, today it is essential. Social media demands a personality, a voice, character and a predefined scope. The innate casual nature of social media, has been the reason behind many-a-blunder. Your organization’s personality however, is about more than just voice, it is about an image you want to project. This image should be in line with your organization’s values, and the values of your audience. Keep this in mind as you answer this particular question.
What are your business and communications objectives?
These are two of the most important questions your organization will ever ask itself, but they are essential in determining efficacy in almost every organizational endeavor. What do you want to achieve from a business perspective? What do you want to communicate, and what do you want that communication to achieve? How widely known are these specific objectives inside your organization?
Which social media tool best accomplishes your objectives?
Each social media channel has a slightly different audience and can be used differently. When looking at the social media landscape whether for the first time or if you’re reevaluating, the key thing to keep in mind is to be strategic about which social media channels you choose for your organization. Which channel you can leverage most effectively and efficiently will depend on:
- Objectives- both business and communications
- Target market
- Type of engagement or community you want to build
- Time you have to dedicate to manage your profile(s)
There are many social networks and channels out there, and yesterday, YouTube announced it had hit one billion monthly users! The other top channels are:
- Facebook with more than 750 million unique visitors each month
- Twitter with approximately 250 million users
- LinkedIn with 110 million visitors per month
- Google+ with about 65 million users
- Pinterest with about 30 million unique visitors
Content marketing can be confusing but it is an essential element in B2B social communications, blending elements of public relations, digital strategy, and social media. Content marketing allows companies and executives to position themselves as resources in their field, showcase their expertise, and establish a dynamic presence across the internet. Content is created and then distributed via multiple strategic channels. Here we offer you a simplified snapshot of what content marketing is.