To extinguish a crisis communication fire, start by using the right tools and making a plan.
You wake up to a call from your CEO at 5:30 a.m. telling you that the software company you work for is in a crisis situation and that employees may have exposed the credit card numbers of several thousand clients. You get up, rally the PR troops and find yourself in a crisis communication strategy meeting by 6:30 a.m.
It’s critical that you and your team form a strategy and a crisis communication plan as well as a crisis management plan that deals with the crisis head on, and you have little time to execute. In crisis communication the most important tool at your disposal is reliable data that comes from good PR measurement. Reading and analyzing data surrounding the crisis will allow you to guide your communication for each stakeholder group in each channel and react quickly.
According to SHIFT Communications, using public relations and crisis managers to mitigate a crisis within your company is very much like putting out a real fire. In their blog post What is crisis communications? they state:
“There’s the something you did or something you’re responsible for – the fuel. There’s the tide of public opinion – the heat, the energy. There’s your speed of reaction to it – the catalyst. As with real fires, if you deny the fire any one of these sources, you break the chain reaction that causes fire and it burns itself out.”
In crisis communications you only have one chance to get it right; this is where crisis management and PR measurement data comes into play. Before you can respond, you have to understand exactly what’s fuelling the fire and what kind of energy or heat it has. In other words, you have to ask yourself the following questions:
Answering these questions will guide the strategy, communication, messaging for the public stance you take, and help pinpoint the communication channels where action is required and in what order. By quickly finding accurate answers to these questions through measurement tools you will speed up your crisis management process and response time in a crisis significantly.
Crisis Management Done Right
Every company can get hit by a crisis, news get viral, the reputation is damaged. But the question is how it recovers from it and whether it bounces back. It usually takes more than just a CEO appearing on the news or an apologetic press release.
Here is an example of a successful crisis management strategy.
PepsiCo (Syringe Can Rumors): Although this crisis happened in the USA in the 90s, it still serves as a good example of a crisis communication strategy. In 1993, a syringe was allegedly found in a can of Diet Pepsi. After one week, around 50 new cases were reported. PepsiCo knew it was a hoax and responded accordingly. However, the company did not make vague statements asking the public to trust their products. It produced videos displaying its soda canning process and published a surveillance tape of a woman putting a syringe into a Pepsi can. The CEO of PepsiCo North America also appeared on the news with support of the FDA as well as visual evidence.
The result: After a couple of weeks, the rumors fizzled out and multiple people were arrested by the FDA for filing false reports. Although the Diet Pepsi sales have slightly decreased during the crisis, the company has soon recovered.
An efficient way to structure your crisis communication campaign is based on the different stakeholders that require communication. Each stakeholder is interested in your company for a different reason and so the plan you develop will be different for each.
You’ll also be reaching out via different channels to each of them. For most companies there are five primary stakeholders to consider in a crisis situation: customers, investors, employees, the media, and influencers. If you stick to this structure throughout your crisis communications campaign, you can establish a baseline for each stakeholder, determine the right plan, steps of crisis management, consistent messaging and measure the impact as the fire dies down.
The Meltwater News public relations suite includes all the metrics you’ll need in such a situation to inform your crisis communications campaign, such as article volume, impressions, articles by geography and sentiment. The platform also uses Boolean operators to ensure that each graph that you pull represents data from the correct stakeholder (check out my previous post to learn more about online media monitoring using Boolean operators).
To help you get started, I’ve put together a list of what metrics to look at for each of the mentioned stakeholders.
Customers. Whether your business is B2B or B2C, customers are likely your most important stakeholders and are usually the most directly affected by a crisis. You need to establish a crisis management plan, evaluate the situation and understand how negatively the crisis impacted them and how many customers are unhappy.
Key Metrics: pull articles by geography, impressions, social media conversation volume, social media sentiment
Investors. A crisis can have a negative impact on your company’s stock price based on how investors react to the news media, so it’s imperative to keep investors at ease. Run a search for press that gives you insight into how the financial community is reacting to the crise to inform how you communicate with investors.
Key Metrics: article volume (financials only), article sentiment, impressions, social media conversation volume, social media sentiment
Employees. Employees act as representatives or brand ambassadors for your company on social media platforms and in daily business communications. In other words, they ensure the reputation of your company stays intact. It’s therefore important to provide them with corporately approved messaging, a well thought through plan or strategy on how to handle the situation and to monitor their public-facing communication regarding the crisis.
Key Metrics: social media conversation volume (for posts made by employees only), social media sentiment (for posts made by employees only)
The Media. Because the media controls public knowledge of the crisis, you have to inform yourself about their side of the story. You need to know exactly what they think happened, who’s saying what and where this is being said. With this information you’ll know exactly who to reach out to with a prepared statement or a press release.
Key Metrics: article sentiment, impressions, articles by geography
Influencers. Influencers are trusted industry experts such as analysts or social media influencers who can act as positive brand ambassadors during a crisis. Because they are established advocates for your company, leveraging influencers across communication channels is an easy way to ensure a significant impact with little effort. Keep in mind that often one influencer can have a bigger impact on your crisis communication plan than any other single stakeholder.
Key Metrics: media sentiment, article volume, social media sentiment
Within a couple of hours, you can confidently click send on a statement/press release and update your online channels knowing that your message is based on reliable data. Good monitoring and PR measurement metrics are an essential tool for crisis communications. They tell you who to communicate with, what needs to be communicated and determine the best plan to reach stakeholders on each channel.
When the fire has finally gone out, the metrics that you built will help you measure how your campaign changed public sentiment and how to do so even faster next time. Here’s hoping that a crisis doesn’t come your way…but in case it does, don’t forget that these simple metrics will see you through!