#crisis2020 SXSW dispatch: Know your kryptonite – Nine questions you should be asking about your crisis plan

When issuing a complaint via Twitter, 72 percent of customers expect a response within the hour. Sixteen percent of employees have posted public criticism of their employer online. What is your plan for managing internal and external communications effectively when issues are brewing into crises and your CEO is breathing down your neck to fix it? Hope is not a strategy.

Minneapolis-based crisis trainers David Krejci and Lauren Melcher have collectively produced and facilitated more than 100 trainings across five continents and 10 countries. PR agencies have prepared clients for crisis since the dawn of time, but it wasn’t until 2010 when Weber Shandwick built the first multimedia crisis simulator – firebell – that clients could practice their response strategies in a real-time and safe environment. Drawing from their experiences in dozens of firebell trainings, Krejci and Melcher spoke at SXSW Interactive 2015 about common mistakes companies make and how to avoid self-inflicted wounds as the communications landscape evolves.

sxsw session david and lauren
Research about the origins of crises is hard to come by but we like this report from Altimeter, and from our experience the trend line remains about the same in recent years:

  • 54 percent are the result of an organization’s customers
  • 33 percent are self-inflicted wounds
  • Only 13 percent are the result of opposing stakeholders or antagonists

With these statistics in mind, consider the following trends and questions as you’re evaluating your organization’s crisis plans:

  • Customer complaints: 72 percent of customers expect a response from organizations within the hour, including nights and weekends (HubSpot, 2014). Direct complaints are followed by public brand shaming on social, negative word of mouth recommendations and escalating the complaint through other channels.
    • Is your monitoring system set up to identify and escalate inquiries this quickly?
    • Is your organization able to respond in a timely enough fashion to avoid having a delayed response become part of the crisis itself?
  • Today’s news sources: we all know this from experience, but data proves that younger audiences favor digital news channels as their primary source, while older generations still default to traditional print and broadcast channels (Reuters, 2014). But the gap is narrowing.
    • If generation segments are getting news differently, how should you adjust your crisis communications strategy?
    • If your core audience skews young, digital and social news skews more important
  • Employees are the overlooked line of defense. According to our research Employees Rising (2014), 49 percent have defended their employers from criticism – governed trained appropriately, they can be your built-in, credible first responders!
    • Does your crisis plan include employee communications? What are you asking them to do, share or say?
  • Activists and opposing stakeholders: they’re not your moveable middle. Trolls will be trolls.
    • How are you thickening your team’s skin? Are you hosting regular crisis simulations to practice messaging and audience prioritization?
  • If an opposing stakeholder or troll spreads misinformation about your organization, the best way to combat it is by activating credible third-party advocates to speak out and correct the misinformation.
    • Are you building relationships and trust with influencers and experts when times are good, and can you communicate with them quickly and transparently when times are bad?

The toolkit for crisis communications is changing as quickly as behavior and channels are evolving. What tools are your customers, employees and antagonists using to tell your story for you? Are you monitoring these channels and do you understand these tools? Consider Meerkat, the live video streaming service that piggybacks on your existing Twitter account. Could your brand team activate a live video stream quickly enough to respond to a breaking crisis to mitigate misinformation before it spreads widely?

Conclusion
Effective crisis mitigation is a far more complex challenge today than only a few years ago; social itself is often the only reason a crisis ignites or survives. It’s through a solid knowledge of crisis communications, social media and technology that an organization is truly as protected as possible.

Related Weber Shandwick research reports:

PS: Krejci and Melcher livestreamed the session via @appmeerkat and we’ll post a highlight video soon.

sxsw session meerkat

Lauren is a digital strategist and crisis preparedness lead for Weber Shandwick, based in Minneapolis. She is the global product manager for firebell, the agency’s proprietary multimedia crisis simulator, and has produced 40+ crisis readiness simulations for dozens of international companies in the food, cosmetics, travel, insurance, government, healthcare and banking industries. Lauren is also a lead global resource for drafting issues/crisis response plans, specializing in integration of digital media best practices with overall strategy and processes.