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Communications at the Speed of Light in Crisis PR

Situation: The Twittersphere and blogosphere are exploding with attacks on your company, client, CEO, technology, food quality, lousy customer service, bad earnings report, botched new product introduction, labor dispute, legal action, whatever. You jump into the feeding frenzy of the 20-second (or less) news cycle where the momentum of an attack goes ballistic. How to respond?

One option is to do nothing if the attacks are from the lunatic fringe or deal with a single aberration that runs counter to the reputation you’ve earned over time based on the quality of all that you do. You may still want to deal with that incident according to established procedures, protocols and process to counter even the most ridiculous post. The challenge is to avoid an instant, emotional response that escalates the exchange, especially if it’s a difficult or contentious subject.

Instead, get analytical. If it’s in the Twittersphere, consider the half life of a Tweet. If it appears the flaming will continue, set goals for moving the conversation. Be consistent in the tones, themes and values being portrayed. Display cultural authenticity – what you stand for and the essential core values. Proceed with a human voice (no legalese or corporate speak).

Prepare to track the conversations by the minute as the crisis or issue unfolds. Measure how the conversation moves. We’ve adopted a simple method that is incredibly easy to record and track the flow: is the message (Tweet, comment, news story, whatever) positive, neutral or negative. The ultimate goal is to be trusted and believed. If starting in a deep hole (three to one against), set your goal to at least break even within a certain period of time and rise into positive territory immediately thereafter (Gable PR used this approach and means of measurement in a issues management campaign that won a PRSA Silver Anvil).

To help focus the effort, Gable PR developed a quick check list to start the conversation with our clients when disaster strikes (the key word is when, not if; be prepared).

  • Source of the communications, legitimacy
  • Issues being raised
  • Internal analysis of accuracy, validity, magnitude of the issues and conversation; duration, desired end-point
  • Analysis of potential impact on reputation of the brand, company, people, technology, etc.
  • Beyond communications, are internal changes needed to the organization, product, service, culture and core values?
  • If analysis indicates the fundamentals of the organization seemingly aren’t lined up with the outside audiences, how to move toward better alignment? (Don’t get hung up in ego. What needs to be done? By whom? Course corrections? How to announce and take leadership?)
  • Launch issues management and Crisis PR plan if required, to include response strategy, core values, messaging, tools, tactics and timing (in some cases, you don’t have to respond immediately, especially when the attacks are emotional and personal)
  • Set goals for moving the conversation
  • Add resources to the Crisis PR team if needed, including outside experts
  • Respond in a sincere, human voice and work to build trust
  • Conduct minute-by-minute tracking, analysis of trending in tone, content
  • Adjust the response strategy and tactics as facts and circumstances indicate
  • Continue to evolve the internal culture and organization as needed
  • Celebrate success!
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