It’s every business owner’s worst nightmare – that one tiny problem you thought was ‘resolved’ and just hoped would disappear has now been splashed across the front page of the Sunday newspapers or is the leading news story on the evening bulletin.
What could possibly be worse for your business’ reputation? In our information age, it’s the social media effect which makes bad news travel fast and multiply even faster with the potential for thousands of re-tweets, shares and comments that further destroy a reputation.
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No one likes a crisis situation, but they do happen and often at the most inconvenient times. It is critical to be prepared in advance for a crisis. You need to know how to prevent a crisis from snowballing into something worse which could lead to irreparable damage to your reputation.
Here are 11 tips to guide yourself from chaos to calm.
1. Plan ahead
It is crucial to be prepared with a crisis communication strategy. Arrange a special meeting with your entire team to brainstorm all the possible crisis situations your company may face.
List every possible scenario, regardless of how bizarre they might be including corruption, theft, natural disasters, malpractice, service complaints, strikes and legal battles to name a few. Rank and categorise every crisis according to the impact that it may have on your business and decide on an action response plan.
Everybody must know who will manage the crisis, who will speak on behalf of the organisation and what responsibilities others have during a crisis.
Share the action flow chart with everyone in your company, so that everyone knows what to do – and what not to do. The last thing you want is for an overzealous intern to tell their version of a crisis to a very interested journalist.
2. Get media training
Make sure that the official spokespeople for your business has media training so that they know how best to deal with difficult questions from journalists and to extract as much value out of every media interview – even in a crisis.
3. Time is of the essence
As soon as the bad news breaks you will need to act fast. Make sure you inform your key stakeholders of the crisis as soon as possible.
Even if they may have heard something on social media or the radio, your message to them says that you are acting responsibly by informing them of the crisis officially.
Be proactive and fast - before they have an opportunity to jump to conclusions or search for other sources of possibly incorrect information.
4. Communicate internally first
It is very important that you communicate messages internally to your staff first, before speaking to the media.
You do not want employees to be in the dark about the organisation or speak poorly of the crisis to their friends and relatives. Management should share business news internally first.
5. Take action
Make sure that everyone knows what you have done to resolve the crisis and prevent it from happening again. Be humble enough to say what your business has learnt from the experience.
6. Never say ‘no comment’
When a journalist calls you to comment, you must have an answer because “no comment” is a comment itself. People will assume that you are hiding something and doubts will fill their minds.
If you cannot share details, at least tell everyone who asks that you are investigating the situation and will provide information as soon as it is available.
7. Be honest
Be transparent about the problem and keep stakeholders updated when actions have been taken. This kind of trusted engagement will help regain trust.
8. Keep it simple
Try not to overcomplicate the crisis with long explanations using industry jargon. Keep your explanation short and simple. This will show that you are not trying to hide anything by being vague or evasive.
9. Social media
Social media pages can be a great tool too to keep people updated during a crisis. Journalists will often quote or refer to official comments posted onto organisations’ social media pages. However, be aware that if a Facebook page or Twitter profile is not properly managed and stakeholders’ questions are not answered, it can cause more damage. If necessary, call in communication professionals to help.
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10. Talk about your values
Despite the crisis, do not waste the opportunity to remind journalists and the public of your organisation’s values, vision and mission. Incorporate this into any response to media questions.
11. Show that you care
Be empathetic to those affected by the crisis. Imagine how they feel and acknowledge this when making any media statement.
Showing that you care is a quality that commands respect and shows maturity. Insensitive, unthoughtful, blame-shifting or aggressive responses will do the opposite and harm your reputation further.
Be sure to communicate that your organisation is invested in the correction of the problem – even if it is not your fault. If a mistake has been made, take responsibility for it, apologise and reap the reward of regaining trust immediately. Defensive behaviour will prolong a crisis unnecessarily.