Most crisis communications plans that I see are robust when it comes to controlling the things that companies can control. For example, most plans comprehensively outline escalation rules, crisis team org charts, calling chains, initial holding statements, etc. These are the resources whose applicability can be predicted with relative certainty, regardless of the crisis.
But after your Communications team has gathered the facts, called together the crisis team, and issued the initial response, what do you do next? The short answer is – “a lot.” And while I’ll admit that it’s difficult to plan in advance for every crisis permutation, there are several things that you can do to better prepare yourself for managing the ensuing stakeholder debate and impact on reputation. Here are four strategic activities that I think will help your organization:
(1) Listen to how stakeholder conversations are taking shape. We all know that the world of communications has become increasingly complex in recent years. Gone are the days when organizations had significant control over when news would be released to the masses and how the subsequent conversation would evolve. Now, information flows to stakeholders through their own complex web of influencers.
These principles remain true in a crisis situation, making it critical that companies closely monitor how conversations are taking shape. CEC members can take check out our profile of different Social Media Listening options to see how to improve non-traditional media monitoring.
(2) Prioritize stakeholders who get others to think and behave differently. Despite our best intentions, when confronting a major crisis, most communicators find that there simply is not the bandwidth to engage with and respond to every stakeholder that reaches out to your organization. Communicators are usually over run with requests to fulfill and fires to fight. But if you are effective in your stakeholder listening efforts, you’ll have a pretty good idea of who is talking. Now you need to determine which ones to prioritize.
It might seem obvious to focus efforts on the most influential stakeholders. But how do you define influential? Is it the individuals who are most read/followed by other stakeholders? I would take it one, maybe two, steps further. The most influential stakeholders are those people who get others to think and behave differently. As much as we’d like stakeholders to have a favorable view of our organization, the real damage occurs when people begin making different choices as a result of the crisis.
(3) Respond to conversations where they naturally take place. Conversations are taking place through more channels than ever before. The best companies understand and embrace this trend. They typically respond by using the original channel through which the critique was voiced. This is easier said than done. CEC members can reference our website that is focused on Communicating about Challenging Issues.
(4) Enable others to advocate on your behalf. Though we’d love to think that Communications is serving as the clearinghouse for all information, the reality is that your whole organization is providing information to external stakeholders. Whether it’s a sales representative talking to a customer, a procurement professional speaking with a supplier, or even a frontline employee conversing with a family member conversations are constantly taking place. Rather than trying to figure out how to stop these conversations, Communications should consider how to best enable these employees to make the most of their stakeholder interactions. CEC members can read our profile of Alcoa’s Stakeholder Relations Playbook for equipping the line to engage with stakeholders.
CEC Related Resources:
- Crisis Management: Our Latest Observations
- Building a Crisis Communication System
- Crisis Communication Tools
CEC Related Blogs: