In the age of social media and instant news updates, companies need to be prepared to respond to crises quickly and effectively. The results of a new study found that less than half of surveyed U.S. companies have a formal crisis communication plan in place. This lack of preparation can lead to disastrous consequences—for both the brand and the people affected by the crisis.

The “Brand POV in a Crisis: Speak Out or Shut the F* Up” panel at SXSW EDU 2023 tackled the important issue of crisis communication in the modern age. The panel included experts from various industries who shared their insights, experiences, and advice on how to navigate the complex landscape of speaking up during a crisis. The key takeaway from the panel was the importance of having a process in place before a crisis arises. Here are five questions to ask when building out a comprehensive and effective crisis communication strategy:

1. Who will be on your crisis communication team, and what will their roles and responsibilities be?

A well-defined team with clear roles and responsibilities, effective communication protocols, and adequate training is critical to successfully managing a crisis and mitigating its impact on your organization. First, you need to think about who should be involved (legal, stakeholders, human resources, social media team, etc.), and then assign appropriate roles and responsibilities. 

As you determine who your company spokespeople are, take an assessment of your company’s c-suite and leadership team. When it comes to addressing social or cultural issues, it is important to come across as authentic. It is important to center the voices and experiences of those most affected by the crisis and to use one’s platform and resources to support and amplify their messages. Does your company have diverse representation across the board? Are there female leaders, people of color, or individuals with unique backgrounds that have a personal connection with the situation or topic? 

2. Does this crisis require a response?

Not all crises require a response from a brand. There are times when staying silent is the best course of action. It’s important to identify the situations in which silence is appropriate, and the situations in which a response is necessary. This will depend on a variety of factors, including the severity of the crisis, the brand’s relationship with its stakeholders, and the potential impact of a response.

However, while there are situations where staying silent is appropriate, there are also situations where silence can send the wrong message. For example, if a brand is facing allegations of misconduct or ethical violations, staying silent can be interpreted as an admission of guilt. It’s important to consider the potential impact of staying silent in different situations and to have a clear understanding of the message that silence may send.

Another major thing to remember is that in the digital age of social media, crises can spread rapidly and have far-reaching consequences. Social media has a massive influence on public opinion, and misinformation can spread like wildfire, creating panic and confusion.

3. What is important to your organization?

When a brand’s response to a crisis feels performative, it can do more harm than good. This is particularly true if the brand’s response doesn’t align with its values and mission.

For example, if a brand claims to be committed to social justice, but then responds to a crisis in a way that seems tone-deaf or insincere, it can come across as performative. This can lead to backlash from stakeholders, who may feel that the brand is not living up to its values.

When it comes to social issues that arise, you can avoid coming across performatively by determining what topics align with your company’s values and stakeholders. Appearing authentic and transparent when addressing a social crisis is crucial to building trust and credibility with the affected communities, and it is often more effective to focus on a few key issues (women’s rights, sustainability, etc.) that align with your company rather than trying to respond to every instance of injustice.

4. Who is your audience?

Not every crisis requires a universal response; it is often sufficient to address specific audiences, such as stakeholders or employees, in order to effectively manage the situation.

Let’s say an employee at a company is passionate about women’s rights and was concerned about the potential repeal of Roe v. Wade. While this issue may be important to some of the employees, it may not be relevant to the company’s broader audience, which could consist of customers, investors, or other stakeholders. In this case, the company may choose to address the issue internally and provide resources or support for employees who are impacted. 

By addressing the issue in a way that is tailored to the needs of its employees and not necessarily its entire audience, the company can show that it values its staff’s concerns while still maintaining neutrality on the topic. 

5. What communication channels will we use to respond to and monitor a crisis?

When facing a crisis, it is crucial to determine the most effective communication channels to use based on the nature of the crisis and the audience being targeted. Social media, press releases, and email are all potential channels to consider, and it’s important to consider their strengths, limitations, and any legal or regulatory requirements. 

For instance, when a company is dealing with a data breach, it may be more appropriate to use email instead of a press release to communicate with the affected customers directly. Email offers a more personalized and private line of communication, allows for specific instructions to be provided, and enables tracking of who has received and opened the message. 

On the other hand, social media is a powerful tool for crisis management and can quickly reach a large audience, particularly when the crisis has gained significant public attention. Monitoring social media channels can also provide real-time feedback and help organizations identify and correct false information. Ultimately, the appropriate communication strategy will depend on the specifics of the crisis and the desired outcomes.

In conclusion, developing a crisis response plan is essential for any business in today’s digital age. By asking these five questions and developing a comprehensive plan, businesses can prepare for the unexpected and respond quickly and effectively during a crisis. This approach will enable companies to avoid the perception of merely checking a box and will help the company build a positive reputation for handling challenging situations with integrity.

To learn more about Mindgruve’s crisis management and PR offerings, contact us here.