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Crisis planning: a ‘must-have’ in a social world

As we move toward 2012 and put business strategies for the new year in motion, I urge organizational executives to ask themselves one question: Do we have a crisis management plan?
After all, no organization is crisis-proof. The best way to ensure survival (from a communications standpoint) during a crisis is to establish a plan.
According to one recent study by Burson-Marsteller and global research-based consultancy Penn Schoen Berland, only 54 percent of companies have a crisis management plan and only 38 percent of global respondents reported that their companies have a digital crisis communications plan to respond effectively to a new media crisis. Having a crisis plan is the single best thing a company can do to protect itself and its brand reputation. A well-thought-out crisis plan takes into account every communication channel and how messages will be disseminated across each one.
Passing the 700-million-user threshold, Facebook has become a platform that is increasingly being used to share information among family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances and groups. This isn’t to say that Twitter, LinkedIn and niche networks aren’t important as well, but they just don’t have the participation that Facebook does. Nestle learned about the power of social networks the hard way when Greenpeace members took to the company’s Facebook page to protest Nestle buying palm oil from corporations that decimated Indonesian rain forests to obtain it. Nestle’s posting of inappropriate responses to users resulted in the issue spreading faster than it could be handled and eventually was reported by national outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, CBS News and Fast Company.
As you put together your crisis plan, I urge you to consider the following principles about crisis management and how they continue to matter in the fast-paced social world we live in. Taking a proactive approach now will result in more effective reactions to crises in the future:
1. Anticipate. Anticipation will be the key to your success when developing an effective crisis plan. Sit down with an assigned crisis management team and outline every conceivable issue that could arise within your organization. Doing this allows a crisis management plan to be comprehensive, and you will be better prepared.
2. Know your communication channels. Will a message on your company’s website be enough? Do updates on social networks need to be included? What other channels should be considered? These are all questions that need to be answered, depending on the particular crisis at hand.
3. Speak with one voice. Having a designated, primary spokesperson during a crisis is the best way to ensure that messaging is consistent and questions can be answered accurately and truthfully. While CEOs take on this role more often than not, certain crises may call for different spokespeople. For example, a job-site accident may require a safety and environmental spokesperson who is most familiar with the issue.
4. Take action. Silence is an answer, and it is the worst answer possible. Even if a company is not allowed to say anything for legal reasons, tell people that. In today’s world, if you don’t speak, others will speak for you, and most often they are the ones who don’t have anything nice to say.
5. Keep advocates well-informed. There will be stakeholders who side with your organization during a crisis, and it is just as important to keep them informed as it is to inform the stakeholders who are upset. Not communicating important information to your advocates could result in them becoming opponents.
6. Maintain an updated list of contacts. Both internal and external lists should be kept current. Make contact lists for every crisis situation imaginable. This ensures that no matter what the situation may be, the most appropriate people will be notified in a timely manner.
A crisis typically occurs with suddenness, causes time to compress, and demands a quick response. To keep damage to a minimum, the best thing an organization can do is acknowledge the need for a crisis management plan and develop one. With proper planning, organizations can respond to any crisis swiftly and appropriately. Doing so doesn’t prevent crises from occurring, but it can alleviate a current situation and provide valuable lessons on how to avoid similar instances in the future.

Ray Martino is a partner with Martino Flynn LLC.

11/25/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.


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