Data Influx: Tips on How to Survive an Online Crisis Communications

What is an Online Crisis?

An online crisis is defined as a negative situation that has gained momentum on the internet, threatening the reputation of the business through the media and social responses from the public. It is a situation that possesses the potential to damage a brand, its leaders or its products and services. John Bailey, Managing Director of Ketchum Singapore explains that an online crisis may be due to “extrinsic” events beyond your control, or “intrinsic” situations for which the company or its staff is directly responsible. Meltwater breaks down ways on how SMEs prevent and survive an online crisis.

1. Look for Early Warning Signs

Modern media intelligence and monitoring tools available today allow us to trace our performance based on key indicators such as exposure, reach and quality of coverage. These are also the tools that help us to keep track of the voices online and spot any signs of messages steering in the wrong direction. The speed and content of the response is critical in minimizing any potential damage to the brand. Start by identifying the crisis that you might face and make a list of keyword triggers, and create news and social searches for them to keep tabs on the conversation about your brand.

2. Be Strategic and Create a Workflow

Most SMEs face the issue of having limited resources. It is important to be strategic and plan ahead in highlighting the steps to take in case of a crisis. In managing social media accounts, do ensure that the ‘voice’ of the brand and the messaging is consistent across all platforms.

The key to crisis prevention is creating a tactical plan ahead of time, this includes:

  • Determining your target audience

By understanding which stakeholder your message is for, will determine the appropriate channels in communicating with your audience efficiently.

  • Media Channel

Social media may be the quickest way to get your message out but it may not always be in line with your target audience. There are various channels to consider such as calling for a press conference, speaking directly to the media, or releasing a corporate statement on the company website.

  • Company Spokesperson

Selecting a spokesperson beforehand saves time during an actual crisis. This also creates a sense of credibility by having someone take responsibility of the situation.

Importance of having a dedicated crisis communications team?

Having a dedicated crisis communications team would reduce the time spent delegating tasks and responsibilities which would prevent any unnecessary miscommunications among the team. Based on a survey done by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in November 2013, the average response time for a company to issue a meaningful response is approximately 21-hours which actually opens them to “trial” on social media and other online platforms.

It is important for the SME to realize that communications professionals have a vital role in terms of placing your brand in the best light possible. This includes responding to crisis situations and more importantly preventing a crisis using media monitoring tools to measure client sentiments.

Social Media Tactics

The roles of social media are crucial in crisis communication strategy. It stimulates a two-way communication, for the brand to engage with its audience and vice-versa. Social media is possibly the most effective channel to see a PR crisis on the horizon due to its real-time nature. Today, we often see people use social media to understand, or contact your company. This is usually a good thing, until a crisis occurs and you lose control of the narrative.

Here are 4 social media tactics to get you started:

1. Identify the Right Social Media Platform

Understand how the different platforms are being used by your target audience; how do they usually connect with your company; which platform are they more active on? You can determine this by using engagement tools available on media monitoring platforms.

2. Be Responsive and Transparent

Monologue messaging no longer works in today’s society; people prefer to engage in an interactive conversation. The market today is more demanding about the relationship they build with a brand. It is important to maintain a high level of transparency, even if you may not have all the answers in the moment. This may sound daunting but this is also a chance to impress the public.

3. Have a Crisis-Specific Contingency Plan

During a crisis, a knee-jerk reaction is what you will definitely want to avoid. Having a crisis specific contingency plan is will ensure that your team prepared and calm. Start from establishing an internal notification system by identifying hypothetical situations. Analyse certain crises that your competitor has faced or pre-empt possible crises that you might face.

4. Never Engage in a Battle of Words on Social Media

This can lead to backlash and negative feedback from the public. As a company you wouldn’t want to escalate the problem by bringing attention to it, however negative the tone is. Instead, companies should develop a response strategy before it escalates beyond your ability to control or influence the narrative.

These steps will help to ensure that the message is being communicated efficiently and directly. At the end of the day, it’s vital to ensure that your messaging is aligned with your brand, be honest and do not make empty promises.

- Neil Brennan, Area Director, Japan and South East Asia, Meltwater Group -