Google’s current CEO, Sundar Pichai once told a beautiful story that inspired my writeup on crisis management. According to him, a cockroach suddenly flew from nowhere and sat on a lady seated in a restaurant. She started screaming out of fear. With a panic-stricken face and trembling voice, she started jumping, with both hands desperately trying to get rid of the cockroach. The lady finally managed to push the cockroach away; but it landed on another lady in the group.
Now, it was the turn of the other lady in the group to continue the drama when a waiter rushed forward to their rescue.
The cockroach next fell upon the waiter. He stood firm, composed himself and observed the behaviour of the cockroach on his shirt. When he was confident enough, he grabbed it with his fingers and threw it out of the restaurant.
Sundar continued, “Sipping my coffee and watching the amusement, the antenna of my mind picked up a few thoughts; was the cockroach responsible for their histrionic behaviour? If so, then why was the waiter not disturbed?”
Crisis Management Preamble
A crisis is an event that can have a negative effect on a brand, company, or individual’s reputation. It can be something that occurs offline and is then brought to social media channels; or it can begin on social media channels, and then spread. Examples may include inappropriate postings by employees or ex-employees, embarrassing photos, or voiced opinions that can reflect negatively on a company.
The story of the waiter and the restaurant attendees has lots of lessons on crisis management. Key among the takeaways is the power of taking charge of the narrative. The waiter handled it near to perfection, without any chaos. The restaurant patrons on the other hand, reacted whereas the waiter responded. Beautiful display of PUBLIC RELATIONS tenets.
For us as PR People, if crisis management is handled wrongly, long-term damage can be done to an organisation’s reputation. This will affect relationship with stakeholders and in turn may affect a business’s bottom line. If handled well, a crisis can actually be an opportunity to improve an organisation’s reputation – in the real as well as the “virtual” online world.
Let’s look at some few takeaways.
Planning Ahead of a crisis
- Draft a crisis communications plan detailing lists of key contact information, reminders of what typically should be done in a crisis, and forms to be used to document the crisis response.
- Have specific plans to handle different crises situations.
- Identify a crisis management team and define roles and responsibilities in advance, including who makes decisions or approves statements/tweets.
- Prepare prototype response messages in advance that address different crisis scenarios
- Train spokespeople through simulation exercises.
- Set up monitoring tools and response strategy
- From time to time, test your plan, refine it and test again.
What to do during a crisis
- Don’t panic. It’s important not to panic or react unnecessarily. Listen first, understand the conversation and then act.
- Keep staff informed. Inform employees of the event and how your company plans to respond.
- Learn from other people’s mistakes. Learn from someone else’s crisis without going through the pain yourself. Look at what’s gone wrong, and why and how it went wrong.
- Speed is an essential element in the social media space, so having a social media plan to address crisis situation is not just an option- it is critical.
- If you have bad news, tell it yourself
- When you’re wrong, render an apology to the affected publics and the general public. Apologies have to be carefully crafted. Think of the emotions that need to be addressed and consider your words carefully – “how could this be offensive”? An apology should not sound like a press-release.
- Stop pre-scheduled tweets, LPMs, jingles, etc.
So long as day and night occurs without failure, bear in mind that within a couple of days or weeks, a new crisis may knock your company off the front pages. The tides of time will wipe memories of the event. And if you handle it well, your reputation may even emerge strengthened, rather than weakened.
Three key things are worth mentioning as a brands, communications person or business owner. Evolve your Brand, Project your Brand and Protect your Brand.
You can play in the e-reputation management tooling space; there are dozens of free and low-cost tools available to assist in the work of brand monitoring and crisis warning, and to far more sophisticated programs that sort through millions of online updates and posts every day.