If there’s one thing we’ve learned by 2021, it’s that everything doesn’t always go as planned. When you’re managing a business, website, or customer service team, this is where knowing the best practices for crisis communication come in handy.
Whether there’s a supply chain delay, a coding error in your newest software, or a social media post made in bad judgment — having a crisis communication plan can help your business recover.
Before I dive into the specifics of putting a crisis communications plan in place, I want to set a level on what exactly crisis communication entails.
Crisis communication addresses issues that could impact the reputation of your brand such as product outages, litigation, HR complaints, or issues with your executive team. Crisis communication plans protect the reputation of an organization during various crisis situations.
You may have heard "incident response" used before in times of crisis — however, crisis communication and incident response are different entities.
Crisis Communication vs. Incident Response
If your company has a physical office, it's likely that your security team already has an incident response plan in place. Incident response plans are tactical and deal with day-to-day issues that could arise at the office, such as problems with the building or an incident that impacts the physical safety of employees.
Incident response plans are often internal-facing and don't provide any necessary steps for communicating externally other than looping in the PR team if a situation has the potential to go public.
Both crisis communication and incident response plans serve a unique need and are incredibly important for making sure your company is prepared if and when an issue does arise.
In this blog post, however, we'll be focusing on best practices that are useful for developing a crisis communications plan.
Crisis Communication Best Practices
Now that you're ready to create your own crisis communications plan, here are a couple of best practices you should keep in mind as you're creating that document and sharing it within your company.
1. Set up a status page for product-related incidents.
Your status page should be easy to update on the backend, and clear for your customers to find when they're looking for updates.
For example, this ice cream brand created a straightforward recall webpage for one of its product flavors. This page is dated to let customers know about the incident in detail and ongoing updates for it.
And if your company has a Twitter account for support, consider including the URL in the bio. 17% of Americans get their news from Twitter, and logically so would customers looking for quick updates on a situation.
2. Make team expectations clear.
According to a recent PR News survey, only 26% of participants saying their organization's crisis plan is "well known" to crisis management team members.
Having a plan in place is a great first step — but you need to make sure that everyone included knows what's expected of them.
The main teams to consider are marketing, customer service and support, social media, and PR. Make sure you have clear communication channels set up to keep all of those groups in sync. At HubSpot, we like to use Slack to share quick one-off updates and email to send more formal end-of-day or midday updates.
3. Create a reporting culture.
It's important to communicate to the company that employees should be reporting possible crises to the core response team. That will be the best way to ensure that you're learning about incidents before they escalate.
This is critical when you're in the beginning stages of putting a crisis communications plan in place — you'll want people to report anything and everything to get a handle on the types of incidents that are common at your company. The more proactive you are in this aspect, the easier it’ll be to create the solution and nip it in the bud.
4. Update your plan consistently.
62% of companies have a crisis communication plan, though it's uncertain how many regularly update them. In addition, few companies consistently practice crisis scenarios.
When working postmortems into your process, you should also assign a DRI and set a schedule for updating the contact information in the plan. Once a quarter should be sufficient.
It’s also advantageous to be transparent about recent adjustments in your plan, as seen in the food safety webpage below.
Even a seasoned communications team can benefit from professional advice. Consider bringing in experts on crisis communication theory, public relations, media, security, legal, and other areas to help put together your crisis communication plan.
Above all else, remember to breathe — crisis situations can be intense, but with some thoughtful planning, you will be better prepared to deal with those incidents.
Crisis Communication Firms
If your business needs some additional help with managing a crisis, you can also hire a crisis communication firm. These organizations will help you devise a plan of action and assist you in executing each play in your crisis communication playbook.
Since crises can strike at any moment, it's wise to keep a firm in mind in case you need to suddenly reach out for help. Below are a few of the top crisis communication firms to choose from in the United States.
SHERMAN is a PR company that focuses on capturing the voice of your customers. It conducts customer interviews and uses those responses to develop a communication plan that focuses on your customers' best interests.
Once the plan is in place, SHERMAN will help you broadcast your content through the most effective mediums like social media, web copy, video, and email.
TrizCom PR is one of the largest PR firms in Texas. It offers content marketing, social media, and digital strategy options that can help your business produce effective content during a time of crisis.
Additionally, the firm also offers search engine optimization (SEO) services that can improve where and how your content is displayed on search engines.
BIGfish is a Massachusetts-based public relations company that offers a range of different communication services. Its team helps you not only create a response to your crisis, but also ensures it gets the coverage and attention you need to completely resolve the situation.
The firm also offers media training services that teach employees at your company how to communicate in dire circumstances. This way your employees can work with the media to improve your brand's image, rather than allowing the press to control the story.
To Survive a Crisis, You Need a Good Plan
Crafting a crisis communication response before a crisis arises is one of the best safety nets you can provide to a company. Business doesn’t always go as planned, but it doesn’t have to stop when faced with a crisis. We hope you take these best practices into account when forming your own plan.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in April 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Sep 24, 2021 1:00:00 PM, updated September 24 2021