Although most organisations plan for crises, everyone assumes it’ll never happen to them. They draft the plans to check that box and then intend to leave it on the shelf. Then, it happens. One social media post from an unhappy employee can quickly go viral across the internet, leaving the company scrambling to limit the damage, or in serious circumstances, a complete upheaval of the company.
During a crisis, measurement likely won’t be at the top of your priority list. There are a million things that fall onto a communicator’s plate during a crisis, but measurement is still essential. Just because everyone is busier during a crisis, having a measurement plan in place before a crisis erupts is never more important.
As Warren Buffett says, “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it”. While crisis can’t always be avoided, the way it is dealt with as it happens can often determine how the crisis may unravel and whether it ends up as a disaster.
Be agile, be authentic
Clearly, in any potential crisis, time is a crucial factor. The more time you have to analyse the issues and prepare a response, the better it is.
The power of social media to quickly spread news far and wide can leave brands exposed to huge reputational risk when an incident happens. But it has also made it possible for direct communication with stakeholders, allowing brands to respond swiftly and position as the most credible source of information when a crisis hits.
This begins with a robust media monitoring and social listening program to stay ahead of an impending crisis. Once you know what’s being said about you, respond to confirm that you are aware of an incident or that you are looking into it.
Authenticity is now more critical than ever, with consumers increasingly investing in whether a brand’s actions match its communications. Now is the time to add value to your communications, so avoid virtue signalling – it’s not enough to write to a customer to tell them about your policies and procedures. People want to know how their interaction with your organisation might be affected by the crisis. Just because we’re in a crisis, don’t lose the ‘what’s in it for me.
Assume nothing, be data-informed
It can’t all be about ‘what worked in the past’, this is a crisis after all. Professional communicators should be using real-time data to make an informed decision on today’s reality, not yesterday’s successes. This means using the data available to you to make decisions as opposed to relying on hunches or previous strategies.
“Sometimes it may not be as bad as you think. In most cases the reputational impact of an individual social media post is negligible, but this is where human judgement is key. The credibility of the author, the number and type of followers they have, the volume of engagement and the nature of comments should be considered along with the content and sentiment of the post itself,” according to Andrew Nicholls, Managing Director, CARMA Asia.
Measurement should include the main drivers of discussion, which platforms and stakeholders are influencing the narrative and how audience is reacting. Sometimes, responses are met with scepticism – you want to know about this and keep track of its impact to see how the narrative is shifting. This will arm you with the insight required to decide on the next steps.
Don’t forget internal communications
Internal communications remain essential and become more important than ever during the period of uncertainty caused by a crisis. Employee communications to reinforce trust and keep staff calm can often be the thin thread that holds everyone together.
During a crisis, the same questions come up from stakeholders: how bad it is, how are we impacted, how bad might it get. Data and insights can help to answer these questions, allow predictive analysis, and give the confidence in decision-making.
Never let a crisis go to waste
It is inevitable that a company’s reputation would have suffered going through a PR crisis, but this is not an insurmountable problem. The data and insights you have gathered will come in incredibly useful to rectify the negative reputational gap and change the perceptions of the company over time.
Once the initial stages have passed, a follow-up reputational study will help evaluate the effectiveness of the response and the long-term impact of the crisis. For internal communications, look at measures such as employees’ morale, advocacy, and engagement rates to understand how the crisis has impacted the business from within. This process forms a feedback loop for future communications and crisis planning.
Human analysis is vital to decide what is important and to distil that data into actionable insights. Sexy dashboards are useless in a crisis unless they are telling you something you can action.
It is also critical to remember that corporate reputation is not a point-in-time assessment, so it is wise to monitor how your reputation changes over time.