Crisis Management in the Digital Age

Being able to communicate quickly in the aftermath of a crisis is one of the biggest ways organizations can help shape the story. Here’s how they can be better prepared to do just that.

The dynamics of crisis management are changing, according to Brian Ellis, executive vice president of communications agency Padilla.

“The biggest difference we’re seeing in the marketplace is how fast issues evolve and grow,” Ellis said. “The invent and advent of social media is obviously complicating things. The explosion of the internet in general, just globally, is complicating matters, and the use of smartphones is dramatically shifting and changing.”

There’s now a 24-hour news cycle and countless websites and blogs looking for new stories, which means that when a crisis happens—whether it’s an act of violence or a security breach—organizations only have an hour or two to get out in front and shape the story. “Most organizations aren’t prepared to function at that pace—at that speed—because they’re not really ready,” Ellis said.

So, how do organizations get ready? They might start with a tool, like Padilla’s Crisis IQ, which allows them to assess their current level of preparedness. Here are a few other ways to be better prepared:

Know the pain points. Knowing the primary risks and threats an organization faces is key. “Most people will tell you that they cannot anticipate all the crises facing their company,” Ellis said. “And we tell them that’s not true. If they spent five minutes—maybe 10—really thinking hard about their business and really thinking critically about all of the risks, they can come up with the vast majority of them.”

Develop a crisis communications plan. When a crisis occurs, organizations need to be able to communicate swiftly to each of their target audiences. A crisis communication plan will help with this. “The core purpose of the plan is to make sure there is clarity on roles and responsibilities—and who is responsible for what audiences—so that you can communicate quickly to those groups,” Ellis said.

This is where identifying your pain points comes in. If organizations already have an idea of what could happen, they can also anticipate what the response should look like. “You identify the questions that people are going to ask,” Ellis said. “And if you understand what people want to know, then you can effectively communicate the key messages, addressing that specific threat.”

Organizations should also create what Ellis calls “issues papers.” These papers define the threat, details the mitigating steps the organization has taken to prevent the specific risk, identify the questions media will likely ask, provide answers to those questions, and create social media statements for the first couple hours of a crisis. These are “prewritten and ready to go, so when [a crisis] happens, all you have to do is grab the document,” Ellis said. “You may have to make some slight modifications to it, but if you’re smart and already have it preapproved, that approval process goes much faster.”

Practice the plan. Crisis management isn’t something that organizations do every day, so it’s necessary to spend some time running through drills to ensure that everyone knows their tasks and can run through them quickly. Answering basic questions and seeking approval in the middle of a crisis can really slow things down, so it’s important to have those items worked out before you have to deal with an actual crisis.

How does your organization stay on top of crisis management in the digital age? Please leave your comments below.

(wildpixel/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Emily Bratcher

By Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a Contributing Editor for Associations Now. MORE

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