7 Ways to Shockproof your Organisation Before a Media Crisis
According to research quoted in The Smithsonian, anger and outrage trump joy and sadness as the emotions most likely to go viral. That’s why an organisation’s error of judgement – small or large – can become a PR disaster online faster than you can say #boycottunited.
“Anger is an emotion that fires people up and compels them to vent,” explains 89 Degrees East CEO Annie O’Rourke. “Comparatively, an emotion like sadness tends to create a more inward or withdrawn response that is somewhat less likely to be shared online.”
The reality is that (even great) organisations make mistakes and subsequently strain or risk relationships with clients and stakeholders. So how can organisations best inoculate themselves before the fact, so they are well placed to confidently address the potential spread of outrage?
Read on for our key advice on how to plan for (rather than diffuse) a crisis.
It is important to develop and cultivate strategic relationships with stakeholders, including senior media people, during the good times. You never know when you might need to call on those contacts, and it’s difficult to establish trust and understanding in the midst of a crisis. The good news stories and relationship-building you work on now will help develop a buffer for you in the hard times.
Identify online conversations and complaints quickly, so you don’t find out via a hot, angry hashtag.
Social media listening is one way to do this. Social media listening starts with looking beyond posts that specifically tag or mention your organisation; important considering that 30% of tweets about an organisation don’t include its Twitter handle. That’s a lot of people talking about you, not to you.
It’s about getting across the wider conversation that is happening in your space and mitigating a broad scope of risks. Achieve this by monitoring industry leaders, hashtags, key words and influencers, and keeping an eye on your online accounts and customer service enquiries, including out of business hours.
RACI stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed.
It’s a useful organisational tool for clarifying roles and responsibilities and priming employees to react and take ownership in the event of a crisis. Depending on the size and structure of your organisation, your crisis team may involve the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Head of Communications and Engagement, spokesperson and legal.
It's worth considering including an external consultant in your crisis plan; ideally, this person will understand your organisation, but have enough distance to come at a crisis with a cool head. You can develop a relationship with a consultant before a crisis occurs, so they're already clued up when you need them.
Create clear protocols that enable a timely response.
According to research by international law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, 29 percent of crises spread internationally within one hour – but companies take an average of 21 hours to respond. This leaves them open to “trial by twitter”, and trust us, this jury are an unforgiving bunch.
It is extremely hard to reshape an issue once it is already viral.
Test your media crisis team’s readiness for specific tasks. For example, can they deliver a short video response to a social media crisis anytime of the day or night in less than four hours? Extra points if it doesn’t resemble a hostage video a la Johnny Depp and Amber Heard.
Alongside a public response, plan to directly communicate with your stakeholders in the event of a crisis – do not let them find out about the situation via a hashtag.
Nail your internal communications plan and follow up briefings so every employee is informed and on message.
Media people will often scour social media platforms for a first hand account or opinion from an employee in the event of a crisis. Employees must know what they can and cannot share online, and what the organisation’s position on this crisis is. A detailed internal media and social media policy is a must.
Create a Crisis Threshold System, so you're not too slow or quick to react.
Social media chatter – some supportive, some not so much – is a constant for most organisations operating in the digital age. A crisis threshold system that groups social media mentions into Green, Red and Orange categories will help your organisation identify when healthy online banter crosses over into social media crisis territory, and calls for action.
An effective system should monitor your organisation’s daily social media mentions, the duration of negative responses, and traditional media mentions. While most organisations now constantly operate in the Green zone, each organisation’s thresholds will be different.
Green = Observe
Orange = Manage and / or escalate
Red = Action stations
Crisis threshold system
Leaking of confidential information
Hacking of accounts
Long term negative enngagement
Sharp spike in negative engagements
Negative hashtag gaining momentum
Negative media stories
Low level negative engagements
Balanced by positive
Now that you've done what you can to plan ahead before a crisis, familiarise yourself with best practice in the eye of the storm. Enter The Crisis Zone with 89 Degrees East CEO Annie O'Rourke here – a good article to have on hand when things go pear shaped.