As a young high school basketball coach, I admired John Wooden. It wasn't his phenomenal grasp of x's and o's that stuck with me, although winning ten national championships takes some basketball savvy. What really impressed me about John Wooden was his grasp of the necessary mental skills it takes to be a winner. To John Wooden, the physical skills were only part of the equation. Strategy was also necessary but couldn't win games by itself. Wooden taught all the components of the total package called success.
My favorite Wooden-ism is "be quick, but don't hurry." In basketball, as well as in social media, that means putting in the practice time physically and mentally to develop skills that allow you to anticipate opportunities. Quickness implies being proactive, not reactive. Quickness means you understand the game well enough and have the necessary skills to play at a level of speed that sets you apart from the competition. To hurry means to react, possibly without the necessary skills to implement the needed course correction. Hurry is emotional, quickness is strategic.
In crisis, organizations that don't have a plan for digital communications are playing catch-up. Hurry intensifies risk. The quickness you develop investing in planning and training keeps you ahead of the crisis. You know the signs. You are listening, you have a plan. You've practiced. Quickness in crisis is a necessity. Jane Jordan-Meier said in her book, Four Stages of a Crisis, "take responsibility, tell it all, tell it fast." The speed of crisis is breathtaking with 24/7 news and social media. If you don't plan to stay ahead of the message, you won't even be able to keep up. Here are three quick tips to get you started on crisis communications quickness:
- Fail to plan, plan to fail. I'm not talking about an operations plan, although you need one. I'm talking communications plan. This point just isn't negotiable anymore. You can't afford to pretend you will never have a crisis, or believe in your ability to wing it with the public if it happens (remember BP). Don't make the mistake of being prepared from an operations standpoint while neglecting your communications strategy.
- Develop social media advocates before you need them in a crisis. Unless you are living under a rock (and so is your whole organization), you cannot avoid the digital space. The public will take you to task in social media channels. Be engaged there now, developing public trust before you get in trouble. Listening and engaging are important pieces of any communications plan. If you develop social skills and advocates now, when the opportunity comes, you will be ready to play aggressively, not just react to individual events.
- Choose your crisis team wisely and get them trained. In crisis, as in basketball, all the players have positions to play according to their skills. But, no basketball coach would put a team on the floor without ever practicing. Talent and passions will take you only so far. Get your team together and get them the necessary skills to handle a crisis when it knocks on the door.
When crisis hits, quickness will keep you ahead of the game. Prepare now, or suffer later...it's your choice. What have you done to develop quickness?