Communication crises start at any possible time, in any possible way and in any possible place. How do you control them?

“After buying a handbag a woman goes ballistic: Is this even legal?”; “Facebook is in an uproar: people were left dumbfounded after such a response”.

“An employee is left in tatters after seeing his wage. A lawyer’s comment”. These and similar headlines are overflowing the main pages of media channels. It would seem that the times of crises only coming about after a major accident effects a society or a nosy journalist teams up with a whistleblower revealing secret documents of a company are long gone. We are living in times where companies can be made vulnerable by a single defected product being bought, a customer being unsatisfied with the service in a store or an employee unhappy with his or her wage. It would seem it is enough to complain to your friends, make a public post on Facebook or offer the story up to the media that are always chomping at the bits for such scoops.

Crises vs little accidents

To compare a major crisis in wake of a large-scale accident and a crisis based on an unsatisfied Facebook fit is, if nothing else, disingenuous. However, both the former and the later do in fact cost a company both time and resources even if in one case more so than the other.
Do the tools needed to counter a crisis and a little accident differ? I do not think they do. Major crises are still countered by the old A.A.I.I. formula:
-Information on what is currently being done
-Information on what will be done to avoid it happening again
The specifics of each individual case differ, however the general gist usually remains the same. Little accidents or small scale crises should be countered in the same way. Different aspects and elements of the formula should be focused on based on the context, however the idea remains the same.
With all this said, little accidents do have certain specifics that set them apart from major crises and those should be understood.

Anyone can start a fire

As mentioned before, a crisis can be caused by virtually anyone. It doesn’t need to be an influencer with a wide reach on social media, it can be an easily irritable customer, a scorned employee or just about anyone that visited your place of business.
How should you avoid it? First and foremost, you have to remember that any and all customers are potential sparks for a crisis. Service needs to be geared towards eliminating any possibility for him or her to start airing their grievances online. If it does so happen that a complaint by a client has reached you, it should be viewed as the best thing to happen to you that day. If the client contacted you first as opposed to an eager journalist or his entire network of friends online, you have a golden opportunity to sort of the problem out so that it remains only between you and the customer in question.
If you messed up, provide a sincere apology to the client and offer him or her a discount. If you do not agree that you were at fault, you should still apologize for making it seem as if you were in the wrong and promise to do better in the future. If you are certain that you were not at fault? You should still follow the aforementioned guidelines.
You should always take critique from your clientele seriously and if you think that there is a possibility of it spilling over, do not hesitate to contact your communication experts in order to be better prepared for the possible fallout.

A fire can start anywhere

If previously the media used to be the locus where it would all start, once a journalist would get whiff of an upcoming crisis and contact you to get your commentary. The times have changed and more and more often the initial spark is found on social media. Social media has become a public square for people who love voicing opinions, people that love reading other people’s opinions and generally for anyone with an internet connection. And it has become somewhat irrelevant on whether you are a public figure with a wide following or a stay at home mom on a warpath. If you have at least a 100 friends on social media, your complaint will spread far and wide before eventually reaching the media. And the media eat stories like these up.
How can this be avoided? Make sure to set up social media accounts and be diligent in reacting to commentary, messages and inquiries from people. Even if a complaint is voiced in an otherwise unrelated post or in a shoddy manner, it still means that it was important enough for whoever made it and should be replied to. An unanswered complaint, whatever it might be, can cost you a lot more down the line.

Fires can happen at any time

Crises often fall on your lap when you least expect them. When you’re in an important meeting and can’t pick up your phone, when you are already celebrating with friends on a lazy Saturday, when you are turning off your computer for the night and getting ready to head home, these are the moments during which crises simply love to spring up. There is an understandable feeling of ‘It can wait’ especially in the context of small crises where, let’s say, a client has found a small defect in [insert product of your choice] and has voiced their dissatisfaction on Instagram. They were doing just fine without the product all this time before, surely it can wait till tomorrow, right?
Sadly no. Speed is the key in such situations, which can allow to nip the whole problem in the bud. The faster your reaction, the more important the client can feel and thus be more inclined to settle with you amicably. The faster your reaction the more likely a media article will have your position added to an article detailing the situation and slowing down or completely dissipating the raising crisis. And if we were to talk about social media, a fast reaction is no longer a luxury, but simply put a necessity.

Is it possible to plan for it?

Companies usually have contingency plans for large crises in place. These plans usually outline actions to be taken in different possible situations. It is obviously difficult to predict what could happen and how a particular angry client might think, but general outlines for possible actions and reactions should be in place. Small crises make it hard to predict how a particular client might think, but general outlines for a plan should also be put in place.
Set down an action-plan for when a crisis hits. Agree on who will be communicating during a crisis, who would be in charge in case the person in question is on vacation. Make sure to inform other people in the company as to who should speak for the company during that time, stress that no one else is allowed to do so. Plan ahead on how quickly you react to complaints and what should be done if the crisis rears its head on a weekend.
Having a plan set up beforehand allows to save time and nerves during a fire and allows you to concentrate on the particulars of the situation.

What to do in the aftermath?

Irrelevant of the size of the crisis, once it subsides it is recommended to take stock of how well did you manage to deal with the situation. Did everyone know their responsibilities and took care of them well? What were the biggest challenges? What should you pay more attention to next time a crisis rolls around?
It is doubtful whether there is ever a crisis that was dealt with ideally. However, I am certain that an adequate post-action analysis helps in making the next one an easier nut to crack.

Be the first to get the news!

We constantly monitor news and trends in the world of communication and then pack everything into our newsletter. Want to stay up to date? Just sign up with your email and INK will take care of the rest.

    You’re done – the INK Newsletter can finally make its way into your mailbox. Thank you! Good deeds come back in good letters.