Crisis Management Requires Planning and Speed in Digital Era

Leadership Photos 0003 Micheal Queroz

Michael Queroz

Vice President of Digital

Not long ago a company hit with a crisis had time to assess the situation, develop a public statement and release it in time for the next newscast or the next day’s newspaper. Today, social media requires that a crisis response be ready in minutes, not hours or days. If your company is not prepared to address a crisis immediately, online audiences could find out about your story from another source long before your company makes a statement.

While each crisis is different and requires a tailored approach, having a digital crisis management plan will guide you in a crisis and help protect your company’s reputation.

Prepare for the unexpected

Here are tools to have in place that can help you better navigate or, better yet, avoid crises:

  • Employee social media policy. Employees represent your organization publicly. And despite what they think their social media settings may be, nothing is private anymore – screenshots exist, settings change and things can easily slip through the cracks. Develop a policy for your employee handbook that outlines acceptable online behavior in relation to your organization and employment. Review the policy frequently so that it stays up to date with the constant changes in social media and digital communications.

  • Social media monitoring schedule. Determine a monitoring schedule either through a monitoring service or a designated member of your team or PR agency. Based on how active your followers are, schedule what times of day your channels will be monitored and for how long. Monitoring should include:

    • A review of what people are saying about your brand via a qualitative sentiment analysis. For example, note recurring positive and negative statements about your organization.

    • Visits to pages and profiles that have talked about your brand in the past, like employees or members. If there is a known detractor, regularly monitor that profile.

    • Filtering content through a list of keywords that may be negative in association with your company. For example, if you operate a zoological institution, set up your monitoring service to flag terms like “prison” or “captivity.”

  • Digital crisis management plan team. During a crisis, know who is responsible for managing your digital platforms. Ensure that team members on your crisis communications team have special experience in digital and are up to speed on the overall crisis plan. These team members should have permissions and logins for your website, email distribution platforms, social media platforms, etc.

  • Social media response matrix. A response matrix helps guide appropriate actions to take in response to the positive and negative messages and inquiries you may receive on your company’s social channels. Develop a list of questions you may receive from followers and pre-approved responses that incorporate your key messages. This allows your digital team members to take quick action during crises.

Act quickly during a crisis

During a crisis, put your plan into action to help alleviate the issues online. Steps to take include:

  • Ramp up social media monitoring and post judiciously. Once a crisis hits, you may be flooded with questions, statements or even attacks online. Someone needs to be responsible for monitoring at an increased frequency in relation to how often users are engaging. Be aware of social media engagement and the sentiment, and make sure this is reported to the entire crisis team. Now is also the time to engage the response matrix so your organization can focus on the crisis response in real-time. Pause any other scheduled content until the crisis passes to avoid appearing out of touch or indifferent to the crisis.

  • Own your story on your digital channels. Use your owned channels to share key messages or media statements with your audience – both external and internal. When appropriate, post announcements on your website, social channels and in emails to stakeholders.

  • Identify opportunities to move negative conversations offline. A key to good crisis management is letting your audiences know they’re being heard. This is why responding on public platforms like social media is critical. But there are benefits to moving conversations offline. This should be noted in your response matrix and also on a case-by-case basis during monitoring. For example, if a closed Facebook group pops up to oppose your organization during a crisis, identify the leader(s) of the page and determine what type of communication might result in a positive exchange.

Take time to recover

Once it seems like the crisis storm has calmed, assess the situation before returning to business as usual.

  • Go dark by refraining from posting new content, and continue to monitor the tone and content of online comments. Maintain a dark period, which is a time that your social media channels are inactive for a week or so after the public’s interest in the crisis has subsided. Limit promotional posts or topics unrelated to the crisis to avoid backlash from followers. Once you feel you can return to a normal posting schedule, choose neutral content to reengage your audiences.

  • Conduct a postmortem. Take time to reflect on what went well and what could be improved. Did the response matrix provide content that covered all of the engagement you received on social media, or do you need to add more content? Was everyone on the crisis team aware of who to ask for digital support? Now’s the time to revisit your digital crisis management plan so you’ll be prepared for next time.

Would your organization benefit from a digital crisis management plan or assessment? Connect with us at


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