Why your Crisis Communication Plan Needs a Makeover

By Carl Turner (@leftyrightbrain)

When was the last time you updated your crisis communication plan? Social media has been great for creating conversations between companies and customers, but its also providing new opportunities for generating gaffes. Most recently, a new media agency employee dropped an F-bomb on Chryslers corporate Twitter account.

Pharma is no stranger to crisis management. Johnson & Johnson has served as the gold standard role model for how to recover from crisis after cyanide-laced Tylenol showed up on store shelves during February 1986. However, that was before Tweet was part of the vernacular.

Thanks to transparency afforded by social media, mistakes are more visible, but even more important are how those errors are handled. Todays crisis communication plan needs to encompass everything from executive departures, product recalls, plant closings and other events as well as preparing for mistakes that may happen from employees or partners using social media on your behalf.

While you cant predict every folly that may occur, its important to put plans in place to deal with new issues created by social media and online communication. What can we learn from other companies current crises?

Put policies and procedures in place for new media A New York advertising executive posted a tweet insulting the hometown of their client, FedEx, prior to an on-site presentation. While seemingly mild compared to other more recent Twitter faux-pas, it illustrates the need to apply fundamental communications principles in the evolving social networking environment. In addition to coaching employees to think before they post; be careful of what they say and how they say it, companies should include formal guidelines for participating in social media in their employee handbook.

You can make lemons from lemonade – A Red Cross employee accidentally tweeted something that was meant to come from a personal account from the @RedCross account. The first course of action was removing the post, but no matter how fast something is deleted, its still out there. So, they took a humorous approach in apologizing to their followers and went about the business of raising awareness for the Red Cross. A company spokesperson noted that the organization deals with huge, natural disasters all the time and this event wasnt all that huge. The community responded positively to the companys candor and positive attitude and as a result, followers and donations have since increased.

Social media requires a study in nuance It wasnt so much that Kenneth Cole issued an offensive tweet, but their misuse of a Twitter hashtag is what really got them into hot water with consumers. During any crisis, the hashtag is used to organize relevant tweets in the emergent conversation. Organizations that insert themselves into the conversation need to ensure theyre adding value, not being opportunistic. A professional tweeter may prove useful in providing a strategic approach and help organizations from initiating a publicity stunt that aggravates and alienates consumers.

As social media plays a greater role in communicating with customers and other constituents, its time to update the crisis communication plan. Monitor what is being said about you and have a plan for responding before a crisis hits.

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