Wednesday 07 December 2016

Developing Online Tactics for Crisis Management

This post was originally published on Ben Cotton’s blog Social Web Thing.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of working in digital communications is the variety of projects you get to work on. It’s a practice that transcends corporate, consumer, pharmaceutical and tech  - and much more besides.

One area I’ve been giving some thought to is crisis management and how issues which threaten to harm an organisation, its stakeholders or the public play out online and can be managed effectively.

The core principles of issues management remain unchanged, however the internet has altered the media landscape, which requires the deployment of new tactics. The rise of 24 hours news, social media and smartphone technology means that news of issues can spread quickly, from one continent to another, at any hour of the day.

Organisations have to act quickly in times of crisis, as credibility, reputation and the perception of their response is heavily influenced by their reaction during a crisis. A robust crisis communications plan is not just important, it’s a commercial imperative.

In fact, Dr. Rory Knight and Dr. Deborah Pretty from University of Oxford found that organisations which recover from a crisis can add 5% to their original stock value. Those which do not recover remain more or less unchanged for five and 50 days after the crisis, but suffer a loss of 15% on their share price up to a year later.

Here’s some tactical considerations that will enable you to move proactively and quickly when an issue arises.

1. Build a ‘dark site’
A ‘dark site’ is an information hub which remains unpublished or ‘dark’ until a crisis hits. Organisations create ‘dark sites’, so when the unthinkable happens, they can respond quickly, effectively and clearly. A ‘dark site’ should feature up-to-date and relevant information, such as emergency response plans, organisational information and an online newsroom, so people will not have to seek out information from other sources. Once the crisis has passed the site should then be taken offline, evaluated and any learnings fed back into the crisis management plan.

2. Create response and seeding plan
When a crisis hits, communicators need to be ready to clearly explain the 5Ws: who, what, why, where and when, plus the steps they are taking to resolve the issue. Activity to communicate this across owned, social, hybrid and traditional should be carefully planned. Communicators should consider utilising video to engage stakeholders as it has high search visibility and engagement rates, but most importantly is more authentic than a written statement.

The 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer noted a decline in the credibility of CEOs; this does not mean the CEO is less relevant, instead they should not be the only face of an organisation during a crisis. Instead, CEOs alongside technical experts (who are highly credible) should be the spokespeople when things have or are about to go wrong.

3. Be ready to launch paid search
Paid search is an effective tactic to drive traffic to your ‘dark site’ when a crisis emerges. Search engines are amongst the first places people look for information, as well as being one of the most trusted sources of information, so paid search can give crisis activity the head-start it needs. When executed successfully, paid search helps add balance to search results and raise awareness of your response.

4. Resource for real-time engagement and authorise
Online engagement demonstrates openness, honesty and transparency; all of which helps drive trust. When planning you should clearly define who is authorised to comment on behalf of the organisation, what they should say and on what platform.

When crisis hits, the communications teams can begin to fill the information vacuum and start to regain goodwill by communicating publicly in real-time, answering probing questions and speaking honestly. Repetition is important, as people need to hear things three to five times across different channels and from different sources, before they believe its accuracy.

5. Invest in online monitoring
I would recommend all organisations undertake some form of online monitoring. This enables them to understand the types of conversations taking place online and coverage they generate – and from a crisis perspective, become alerted to issues before they grow. During a crisis, online monitoring gives an overview of how the issue is playing out, as well as helps shape tactics and evaluate activity. Online monitoring also enables organisations to identify opportunities to engage, correct misinformation and issue rapid rebuttals.

Image credit: Night Owl City

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