Tuesday April 12, 2011
Online crisis management was the third and final of our spring series of lunchtime alumni webinars. In the chair with lots of sound advice and best practice principles was Roberta Knowles of Regester Larkin.
Roberta began by outlining what crisis management is about: responding well to difficult circumstances, well rehearsed procedures, doing the right thing by stakeholders and being seen to do so. And, good crisis management prevents shock turning to anger and damage being done to your reputation.
She also talked about the fundamental things that you need to have in place when an issue or potential crisis looms: effective leadership, clearly defined structures, trained and competent professionals, an agreed process primed and ready to implement, and user-friendly communication tools and templates.
Roberta pointed out that the basics of good crisis communications apply to online as well. But that isn’t to say things haven’t changed. We are now, in Roberta’s words, “managing crises in a new reality”. With the rise and proliferation of new online and social media platforms we live and work in “a world of opinion and information”. “Individuals are empowered” and “everyone is an expert publisher”. The result, there is no such thing as a local difficulty.
In a nutshell, social media can trigger a crisis or escalate one at great speed. An “unstructured” means of communication, it can complicate crisis management. It creates new circles of trust and credibility. And in order to manage a crisis online, it requires us to up-skill and utilise different resources. That said; it can be an asset in helping you to manage an issue or crisis.
For me, we’re back to the principles of all good communications, not just crisis comms, of understanding your audience and prioritising the appropriate communication channels.
So, how should you approach online crisis management?
Apply the fundamentals already outlined and, Roberta adds, ensure your procedures are updated to take account of social media, include an alert and escalation procedure and assign ownership or accountability. Also, ensure you understand the problem. Is social media the origin or a symptom? What are its effects on brand identity? Establish a monitoring system and use it wisely, as a barometer. You need to choose your battles. Is it really necessary to respond to that comment? Consider the influence and reach of the commentator.
And post crisis, don’t forget to carry out an audit and use your findings to inform decisions and strategy.