Crisis management is often pushed into the background as every business owner is an optimist, and optimists assume nothing will ever go wrong. The reality is though that we all get used to costs being higher than planned, and income being lower than forecast.
But we rarely give much thought to how we would handle a crisis, such as a product failure, or worse still something like a food poisoning, that hits the local, even national, media. For sure social media will draw attention to the shortcoming with red warning lights flashing from ‘customer reviews’, Twitter comments, and unwelcome pictures on Facebook. Enough to kill off the business completely.
How do you make sure that your business is ready?
Every business owner should have a dual plan in place from the very start.
· Head it off before it happens
· Have the plan ready if the heading off doesn’t work
Heading it off needs three boxes to be ticked:
· Be continually active in social media with the positive comments. Work testimonials hard. Have them on your website, make sure they are posted on Twitter, and other social sites. Make full use of platforms like Trip Advisor.
Then if a bad review appears it will be swamped by good comments.
· Set up Google Alerts for your business name, and be continually on the look out for your name popping up. Frequently issues find themselves in social before even the business is aware of them. Once you are aware you can start reacting.
· Make friends with local and trade journalists, so that if something does go wrong, at least you are able to have friendly conversations with them to minimise the damage.
What should you prepare for your crisis management plan?
Have the plan ready is critical too though, as one day it may well be needed. This has four components:
· Know who is going to front the media and customers, and ensure that they are prepared. Media coaching, in advance of a crisis, is a worthwhile investment. A good media interview or client presentation can save a business. There are plenty of examples too of business failures as a result of bad ones.
Having someone already lined up to face the challenge will enable proper focus to be given to finding the solution.
· Make sure all messages are consistent across all channels, TV, radio, print and social media. Don’t forget the internal messaging too. That too has to be absolutely consistent with the external messages. Internal updates frequently find themselves leaking out to enthusiastic journalists.
· Respond to the crisis, rather than hiding from it. If something has gone wrong, the brand will recover faster if the business takes control as opposed to letting journalists write their own uninformed stories. Give specific quotes to be used, and work those journalist relationships by engaging with them and ensuring that they are writing what you want and not necessarily what they would have written without your influence.
· Acknowledge it, apologise for it and resolve it as soon as possible keeping customers, and external commentators fully informed. Use social media as extensively as seems reasonable, to ensure your messages get through quickly, but also use traditional media means such as updated press releases.
There is no need to go over the top with the apologies; the acid test is how you yourself would like to be treated if you were in the shoes of the customer.
Don’t leave getting your preparation and planning in place until the crisis hits though. If you do it could rapidly move to a catastrophe!
By following those tips, you should be prepared in case of crisis. By definition, a crisis is unexpected and sudden so you will obviously have to take quick decisions and choose a strategy when the crisis happens. However, having a crisis management plan ready will facilitate the process and having the right contacts will minimise consequences.
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Written by: Peter Ibbetson, Company Director
As one of the co-founders of JournoLink PR, Peter is passionate about giving small businesses a voice in the press by providing them with the support and advice to do just that.