Digital Crisis Management (Part 2)

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FIR On Strategy with Andrea VascellariThis is part of a series of posts that explores the “Adaptive Digital Strategy Framework” , an operative guide that I created to plan, execute and manage online strategy programs more effectively and efficiently. Each of post of this series comes with an audio podcast in which you will find the audio version of the post with additional audio commentary about the discussed topics. The name of the podcast is “FIR On Strategy with Andrea Vascellari”.

In our previous cast/post we understood how we can predict the various phenomenons that can potentially originate a crisis and how an organization can plan the responsive actions needed to face such crisis situations.

That’s great at strategic level, but what should we actually do when the crisis hits? What tactics can we use? What process should we follow to manage and possibly reduce the damage caused by a digital crisis? This is what we are going to explore in this cast/post.

You need a tactical plan.

Having a tactical action plan in advance, as part of your overall crisis management strategy, is a fundamental step in ensuring that your organization is prepared for a crisis.

Such plans are extremely useful especially when an organization is forced to adopt a “post-facto” control approach because it wasn’t possible to forecast the environmental changes the originated the crisis and at the same time there’s a very little potential for the organization to address properly the related issues. These are usually high risk scenarios.

A tactical plan is nothing else but an emergency response formula that helps the organization react after the catastrophic event that originated the crisis.

So what do we have in this crisis response formula?

This is a detailed checklist that an organization can use to respond after a crisis event took place. Do you need to consider all the steps that I share? Not necessarily. You might also consider to skip some of these steps or some of the questions that I listed depending on the nature and scale of the crisis you are dealing with.

Here’s your crisis checklist:

  1. Crisis Definition.
  2. Origin.
  3. Acknowledgment.
  4. Response.
  5. Information Center.
  6. Media Relations.
  7. Documentation.
  8. Analysis.
  9. Post-Crisis Review.

1) Crisis Definition.

The first thing you should do is to define the crisis by understanding its nature and scope.

Helpful questions:

  • Is this a real crisis? Or for example you are just dealing with simple/minor criticism or a temporary situation because the right person to handle it is not around?
  • If this is an actual crisis, is it local, regional, national or international?
  • What are the areas of the organization involved in the crisis?
  • Is this something that happened to other organizations? If yes, what did they do in this or similar situations?

2) Origin.

Define the origin of the crisis by focusing on the channel on which the crisis broke (i.e. Facebook) and then by taking care of where else it spread (i.e. Twitter, Youtube, etc.).

Helpful questions:

  • On which social media / online communication channels the crisis first broke?
  • To which other channels did the crisis expand to?
  • Even if you are not active, do you have a presence on these channels?
  • Are you able to “react” within a few hours on these channel?

3) Acknowledgment.

Admit that something has happened. Don’t ignore, hide or run away from it expecting that it will just vanish. You might want to wait, analyze and evaluate before responding but you have to be aware of what’s going on.

Helpful questions:

  • Who’s the designated person that is authorized to clear statements to the public and the media?
  • Do you have an alternate person in case your spokesperson is not available or is temporarily incapable of communicating?
  • Who’s responsible for getting clearances from the legal department?
  • Does everybody know what to do and when to do it?

4) Response.

Promptly make a statement indicating that you are aware of the situation, what are the actions being taken and reminding that you will keep the media and the public informed of details regarding the situation when they are know. Be sorry, and you’ll be forgiven.

Helpful questions:

  • Is the response message simple, clear, consistent, genuine and honest?
  • Did you provide as much detail as possible?
  • Did you reassure the affected and kept stakeholders informed?
  • Did you tailor different messages to your different target audiences?
  • Do you have an internal crisis flowchart that defines who needs to be contacted in different scenarios? – Note: At each management level there’s an evaluation, response, management and monitoring generally based on the public facing moderation plan protocol that the organization has in place. If the situation can’t be addressed properly at a certain level, the issue is subsequently transferred to the next/higher one. This internal process needs to be as flawless as possible. When a major crisis break you basically must to be able to shift really quick, at times in just a few hours, from customer service or community managers to top executive level.

5) Information Center.

To avoid generating additional problems and inconsistencies in media responses, it’s good to have all requests directed and processed through a central information center. A specific tactic/tool that I see working particularly well in digital is a dedicated FAQ page created on the organization’s website. This can eventually be supported by an additional phone line. New or frequent questions coming from phone calls and monitoring channels can be added to the FAQ.

Helpful questions:

  • Are you keeping your staff / all employees informed about the crisis?
  • Does your staff know to which central information center they should refer all crisis questions?
  • To save time and avoid misunderstandings, are you sharing links to the information center on the online channel/s where the crisis erupted?
  • Are you keeping record of all the replies?
  • Are you providing details about: how you found out about the issue, photos and video (if/when available), who was alerted, who can be contacted, the specific actions that were taken to manage the current problems and to prevent future ones, potential or expected effects.

6) Media Relations.

The media can be your best ally or your worst enemy… Remember? So if there is one you shouldn’t forget to take care of, that’s maintaining positive media relations.

Helpful questions:

  • Are you scheduling regular briefings to correct misinterpretations and misconceptions?
  • Are you respecting and maintaining privacy about your affected audience?
  • Are you treating all media equally by avoiding exclusives?
  • Are you able to maintain a focus on the immediate and present issues?
  • Are you constantly monitoring externally?

7) Document.

Keeping accurate records of everything is vital not only for relations with media but also for insurance companies, lawyers and for organizational records.

Are you documenting:

  • Important developments?
  • Tweets, comments on blogs and other social networks, status updates, etc.?
  • Emails?
  • Planning sessions and team meetings?
  • Brainstorming sessions and notes?
  • Decision making documents?
  • Public conferences and press releases?
  • Reports?

8) Analysis.

Once the crisis is over you should analyze it by reassembling it first and then deconstructing it to its basic factors and development stages.

Helpful questions:

  • When and how did the crisis break?
  • How did it spread and where?
  • What was the feedback received from your affected audience/customers? (if any).
  • What impact the online crisis had on the offline coverage?

9) Post-Crisis Review.

Do you have a crisis evaluation team? If not, create one. Usually crisis management and crisis evaluation teams, especially in large organizations, should be different – there are exceptions in smaller organizations.

With a post-crisis review you assess how the organization and its team handled the crisis and then define what needs to be changed at internal level to improve your crisis management procedures.

Helpful questions:

  • How did the internal notification and response protocols work?
  • What went wrong or where did the plan break down?
  • Is there someone that should be added to the next crisis management team?
  • Based on your evaluation, what can be added and what’s obsolete?

Over to You

How do you manage an online/digital crisis? Is there something that you would add to the methodology that I shared? Any suggestion based on your experience? Would you approach this differently? Did I miss something? Let me know…

Andrea @vascellari
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