Linda Rutherford, VP and chief communications officer at Southwest Airlines, recently shared some tips for crisis communications and making a plan in advance. These ideas apply to all businesses and are pretty basic concepts. If you don’t already have a plan, start one, and if you do, continue to update and upgrade it with the following tips in mind.
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First consider all the possibilities of what could happen to your company, especially things that are specific to your industry. As an example, airlines need to look at things like dealing with unhappy customers during delays, strikes, lost item inquiries, and even tragic crashes. But it’s not just the specific things that could happen within your industry or company that need to be considered. Almost all companies these days, especially those with an online presence, need to look at things like a security breach or website malfunctions, even weather conditions that might shut down services in your location or locations where you have customers.
Once you have the list of all those things, prioritize them and start making a plan for each possibility starting with the item you’ve put on the top of the list. Prepare template responses and social media releases. Think of ways you can respond that will improve customers’ perception of your brand, and then spend time training your people on an ongoing basis to deal with the possibilities.
When a Crisis Hits …
Do not delay; this is where your prior planning can make all the difference. Every second you delay in responding gives social media posters the chance to rip your company apart and makes it more difficult to calm the storm that’s brewing. If you have a good plan in place then all the scenarios have been considered, and at least one of your template responses should be easily adaptable to the current crisis. Adapt it and use it – but if you can do that with a person in front of the camera, that adds the personal touch that can make dealing with the problem smoother.
Be Honest and Open
Even with a plan, there will be times you just don’t know the answers yet. That is not a reason to delay your response. Get out in front of people and let them know what you know – or don’t know. When there have been long delays because of power outages or other disasters, airlines don’t always know when things will be resolved, so the answer to those questions are out of their hands, at least for a time. But letting people know what happened, who is working on resolving the problem, and what can be done by the company for the customers while waiting is the beginning to ending the crisis situation.
Use All Social Avenues
Everyone has their favorite social media platforms, so skipping any of the major ones when getting updates and news to your customers is a bad idea. It’s also a bad idea to approach platforms with exactly the same response. Get your response on the platform you have the most followers first – use an approach that works best with that platform and then move to the next. This should all be addressed in your planning efforts in advance and in the templates you prepare.
In the middle of a crisis is not the time to jump into the deep end. There could be legal ramifications, so the plan you’ve got in place should have been reviewed by your legal beagles to make sure what is said won’t land you in the middle of court without a strong defense. Make the plan, get help if you need it, and then keep training your people for the real deal while you pray it never comes.