Crisis will find you in the business world. Are you ready? I am not talking about a disaster recovery plan put together by your IT team. I am talking about a communication plan. A general plan of how you want to be perceived by your customers, prospects, and the general public during a time of distress.
When a crisis hits a segment of your client base or neighborhood where your employees live and work, how your management team elects to respond is critical to how your company will be perceived for the foreseeable future. Preparing a well-thought-out plan in advance is the key to flawless execution. If you did not have a plan and a crisis strikes, ask yourself how well your management team would handle the situation.
Sure, you can always hire a PR firm to make a statement for you, and in certain circumstances, I would highly recommend that. But I would also like to address how your internal employees interact with others during that crisis and how your social media strategy may need to be adjusted to meet the current climate.
First, it will depend on the source of the crisis:
- Is it a natural disaster?
- Political or civil upset?
- A man-made cause, like an act of terrorism or a criminal act that directly damages others?
- A mistake made by negligence on behalf of or even by one of your own employees?
Each one of these will differ in how they should be handled.
When the next major disaster hits your clients, how will you react? Will your business development, sales, and customer success teams communicate with customers and prospects? If so, the mode of their communication and the message are both very important.
During an event like this people do not want to receive phone calls, texts, and emails. They have enough to worry about. Unless you have a solution to fix an immediate need such as how to put out a fire or stop a flood do not bother them with needless interruption.
Instead, post a well-thought-out message on social media expressing your concerns. Be sincere. Do not try to market to them at this time and do not boast. Check on all your company’s scheduled automatic delivery of social media messaging and email marketing to make sure you postpone the campaigns for this segment.
Craft a letter or postcard that acknowledges their situation. Have a plan to mail it as soon as the crisis is over. Depending on the type of business you have, you may want the letter or postcard to be handwritten. Actions speak louder than words, so if you made a donation to an organization that helped their community or sent volunteers, let them know that they were in your thoughts and inspired you to act.
Political or civil upset
This is another animal altogether. In this case, do not get into a debate on either side, as this will cost your company business either way. Stay the course as far as your normal social media strategy is concerned, but arm your employees with the right words to say so they do not give their opinions on behalf of your business. These statements can be as blatant as, “I make it a rule not to discuss political topics at work, I hope you understand.” A less obvious solution is a simple communication technique where your employees are taught to ask a closed-ended question. Doing so will afford the employee the opportunity to gain control of the conversation and lead the discussion back to the business at hand.
Terrorism or criminal activity
If the community is experiencing an act of terrorism or a criminal act that directly damages others, it makes sense that people can become emotionally charged and even angry. Depending on the situation consider if your social media strategy is appropriate. Are you inviting folks to attend a fun party? If so, it would be in good taste to pause the campaign for a few days or more depending on the severity of the situation. It demonstrates a level of connection with the community and provides the appropriate space in which they need to heal. You may want to arm your customer-facing folks with a few business-approved statements such as, “We are all saddened by what happened.”
A mistake that was made by negligence on behalf of or even by one of your own employees is a PR nightmare. Make sure you have employed a professional who will help you make a public statement and look at all of your social media campaigns to ensure you are not saying anything that will offend or make legal matters worse. A good PR person will brief the management team on what statements they should or should not make and arm employees with the tools to turn down a request from the press for an interview.
As with any crisis, you are the leader. How you react is the dividing line between a good outcome or a disastrous one. Please make sure you think through how you want your team to respond in all situations. Don’t stick your head in the sand and pass the responsibility to a management team member that may not fully understand the nuances of appropriate marketing and the effects it can have on your company’s future growth.