Crisis Management: Be Active in Your Own Rescue

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Whether you’re a CEO or an Account Executive or a three-person startup, most of the bad stuff that happens to you or your organization is not predictable. What IS predictable is that bad stuff happens.

When you’re in a crisis, there is no hiding. The strategy of duck and cover in the hope that the problem will disappear is a recipe for catastrophe. “They,” being the media and public who often find the mystery and ferocious hunt for the culprit an entertaining game, will find and get you.

With the stakes for your career or business so high, what can you do to be active in your own rescue?

In today’s digital world, the democratization of the internet has given everyone a voice and a platform to present themselves as experts in the blame game. Being silent and taking “the high road” is not an option. You must proactively use social media as a key tactic in your response arsenal to most expeditiously spread your message in real time and have that communication go instantaneously viral.

While many organizations have offline crisis management protocols in place, they often do not include the resource of social media. Consider the following as a litmus test to see if you and your organization are prepared.

  • Is someone on alert, listening to online conversations about your brand? Do you have protocols in place when the tone turns negative? What should first responders do and say?
  • Have you and your organization used listening tools to monitor conversations about you, your organization or your products?
  • Have you predetermined a model or methodology to react with speed to create content in various formats– blogs, videos, tweets – so you can respond within the same platform as the crisis communication originated? If you have to wait for your IT department to do this for you, it’s likely the crisis will have turned from a brush fire to a raging conflagration.
  • Have you run through models of crisis management response procedures to create elegant efficiency?
  • Have you established reviews to codify your lessons learned and constantly improve responses and response time?

When managing a crisis, it is critical that you appear authentic. Here are several guidelines:

  • Is leadership ready to take the lead? The messaging must come from top down and then spread accurately through social media platforms.
  • You must connect with rather than just contact all the constituencies affected in the crisis. Aim at their hearts, not their wallets. This is about them, not your bottom line. Your communication must demonstrate you have skin in the game – that your feet and tongue are going in the same direction.
  • Above all, take ownership of both the problem and of your responsibility for developing and executing a solution. Transparency is key. Remember the “game” of find the culprit? You will be found. You, your brand, your reputation will be punished – often irrevocably.
  • Don’t be dismissive or patronizing. Your customers or stakeholders have had an unfortunate experience and must feel they have been empathetically heard.
  • Don’t make promises you can’t timely keep, but at the same time, don’t placate. Promise continued interaction and frequent updates. When the problem is resolved, let them know.
  • Solicit feedback, even after the problem is solved to reinforce that you care and value them. 
  • Specific to online, never delete negative comments. You will appear underhanded and sneaky. You are part of the conversation, not the owner of the conversation.

Effective online crisis management is more than mitigating damage. It can deepen your relationship with your customers/stakeholders, strengthen your brand’s reputation, and in some cases even improve your bottom line.

©, published on June 30, 2014

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