Getting ahead of a crisis might mean that you’re the first to publicize it. When a Southwest Airlines flight to LaGuardia Airport in New York skidded on the runway and landed nose first, the airline posted news of the accident on Twitter and Facebook within minutes, promising updates.
Standby for more information regarding #Flight345 BNA-LGA. We are gathering details and will post a statement soon.
— Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) July 22, 2013
Within minutes, they received thank yous for their openness. If a crisis is going to come out either way, and you already know about it, why not get credit for having the integrity to bring it to the public’s attention? Southwest Airlines was first to report the story and was commended for getting ahead of the crisis.
Which leads us to the first tip:
1. Use Your Communication Channels. During a crisis, communicate with your audience using the same channels you always do. Centralizing all relevant information on your website even though your audience is used to hearing from you on Twitter or YouTube will inevitably leave them hanging and dissatisfied with how you handled things.
2. Never Lose Sight of Your Goals. As things escalate, get yourself prepared to move fast. One of the first steps is to know who you’re talking to and how to best reach them.
Keep in mind that you’ll be measured on:
- Speed: Even in the best of times, people want fast results. Acknowledge the problem quickly and deliver updates as you address it.
- Transparency: It’s getting harder and harder to keep secrets. Getting ahead of a crisis means sharing what you know and being open about your commitment to a solution.
- Relatability: You will also be judged by how easy you make it for people to find and understand what they want to know. A media intelligence tool will indicate if your message is sticking (reach), how people feel about it (sentiment), and if it’s being amplified (engagement). ￼ ￼
3. Know Your Audience. That said, different people care about different things. Customize the message and channels you use to reach each stakeholder group.
4. Get Your Message Heard. Media intelligence also allows you to find the best ways to amplify your message. Earned, owned, and paid media all play a unique role in making yourself heard:
- Earned media: Go to your social media channels to communicate directly to your followers. If your message affects them, you can count on them sharing it with their community. At this point journalists may be paying attention to these channels too. If your message resonates, you’ll get more positive earned media through them.
- Owned media: Your website and emails are both great ways to provide information. Make sure that the scale of the crisis is reflected by the prominence you give to it on your site. Ask yourself if it merits a website banner or just a mention on your company news page.
- Paid media: On social, you can consider whether to replace scheduled paid media (like sponsored posts on Twitter) and use those slots to address the crisis. Paid media can help you target your crisis communications to the people who are most affected or most vocal in their criticisms.
What to Look For
- Customers: Customers are usually the most directly affected by a crisis. Understanding to what extent the crisis has negatively impacted them and how many customers are unhappy will help you in your resolution. Investors A crisis can have a negative impact on your company’s stock price. Find out how the financial community is reacting, taking this into consideration when you communicate with investors.
- Employees: Employees act as representatives or brand ambassadors for your company. It’s important to provide them with corporate-approved messaging and monitor their public-facing communication regarding the crisis.
- Influencers: Influencer has come to designate bloggers, social celebrities, analysts, and journalists. Among the first two, some might be advocates for your company and some detractors.
Media intelligence lets you know who is likely to be on your side.
5. Measure Your Impact as You Go. When addressing a crisis, don’t forget to gauge how your updates are being received. A media intelligence platform enables you to track how people are responding and how sentiment is shifting. When used well, media intelligence provides even more granular views. As your crisis takes hold both in social media and in the press, you can use your media intelligence platform to compare by keyword and sentiment what’s being said on social vs. the press vs. other key players who are trying to shape the message (for instance, your competitors or government officials). Doing so can help you target your communications and customize them further by channel and audience.
Bonus: Know When to Walk Away. There is no such thing as shutting down a crisis that’s being played out on Twitter or Facebook. As we’ve seen, your audience will demand that you engage in dialogue. Blocking them from the outset from posting to your feeds will only drive them to others, where they’ll be sure to comment on your strong-arming tactics. But it’s also important to know when to leave the conversation. If you’ve made all the points you can make, but there is still a vocal minority of detractors who are saying the same thing over and over again, any response you give them will just add fuel to the fire. Stepping away removes the target and gives them less to react to. Earned, owned, and paid media each play a unique role in making yourself heard during a crisis.
The best way to deal with a crisis is to prepare well before one hits. These five tips from our free downloadable ebook, Media Intelligence for Crisis Communications, will start you down the path. Get the full ebook and make sure you have the resources you need, in anticipation of not needing them. (But being ready, in case you do.)