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Crisis management: are you prepared?

Crises are rarely responsible for causing harm to a business.  But a company’s response to a crisis can do untold damage.  What really counts is how the organisation is seen to manage the crisis: take control quickly, respond professionally, and communicate well and the organisation is likely to prosper.

Research by Oxford Metrica shows that it is not the fact of suffering a crisis that damages a business – in reality no business can eliminate the possibility of a problem- rather, what really counts is how the organisation is seen to manage the crisis: take control quickly, respond professionally, and communicate well and the organisation is likely to prosper. Dither, hide or appear to be uncaring, and tough – even terminal – challenges may lie ahead. 

As a result, thorough crisis preparedness is essential so that the organisation can be off the starting blocks like an Olympic sprinter.  And – just like athletics – what used to be speedy enough to win a gold medal is now far from world class.  They used to say that the first 24 hours of a crisis were crucial.  The speed and spread of crises today – largely driven by the immediacy and reach of on-line media – makes a mockery of this golden rule.  Being prepared before the crisis breaks, and being able to respond almost instantaneously allows organisations to retain control over their destiny. 

This means that all of the old lessons of crisis preparedness still apply (but more so):

·        Understand your areas of vulnerability

·        Develop and implement crisis management plans and processes

·        Rehearse the plan and enhance it

·        Train your people, especially those required to act as a spokesperson in a crisis

·        Monitor the landscape

·        Engage in pro-active issues management

But the power of online media presents a new and potentially scary dynamic. Digital media has enormous power to both create and destroy reputations.  And many organisations are still grappling with how to harness online media in the face of this potentially business-critical challenge.  

Failing to do this leaves the organisation frighteningly vulnerable in today’s world.  If a crisis is gestating online then the organisation must have the capability to also manage it online.  Sticking to traditional media has the potential for at least three negative results.  Firstly, you may fail to reach those people most affected and concerned by the crisis – the people talking about it online.  Secondly, you lose the opportunity to engage with the online community which has the power to spread positive messages about what the organisation is doing to deal with the situation.  And finally, you may further escalate the situation by communicating bad news to people who were previously unaware that there was a problem.

The key to success is the combination of traditional reputation management insights and expertise, and the application of the latest on-line reputation management tools to get the message through.

As the start point for online reputation management, companies should:

·        Develop crisis management “dark sites” to respond quickly, clearly and effectively to emerging issues and incidents

·        Ensure that it has identified and set up the infrastructure to communicate via social media such as Twitter and Facebook

·        Implement online media monitoring to track what is being said about them in cyberspace

·        Employ search engine optimisation to ensure the company’s perspective is heard loud and clear rather than being swamped by the views of others

·        Develop the capability to quickly create content – latest information, briefing papers, podcasts, blogs – for online media

The internet has the power to spark and spread a crisis: but used effectivelyFree Reprint Articles, digital tools have enormous potential to help organisations prevent and manage them too. 

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