Does your company have a communications plan for when it gets hit by a crisis?
Chances are, you don't. Time and time again I've seen organizations plow ahead with communications programs that focus on generating proactive results, but do little to prepare for the flip side.
In the last few days we've seen another example of activism in social media, as Facebook users slammed Nestle for its environmental and business practices in the developing world. It's yet another demonstration of the fact that if your organization is doing something that could be seen to be unethical, people now have a voice with which to respond.
If you're not yet convinced of the need to prepare for an event such as this, consider the following:
1. At some point, your company WILL do something that upsets people.
It's inevitable. At some point, you will do something that won't make everyone happy - whether it's raising prices, laying off staff, recalling a product or something else. It's going to happen. While that doesn't guarantee the kind of backlash that Nestle received, the chances of people voicing their concerns online is constantly rising as adoption of these tools increases.
2. It doesn't matter if you're using social media.
In Nestle's case, their own property got hijacked. However, McNeil wasn't using social media tools when the Motrin issue hit last year. While your social media properties may provide a lightning rod for criticism (which has pros and cons), not having them doesn't mean it won't happen.
3. You can't plan reactively.
It's too late to plan for a crisis when the crisis is already happening. It didn't work in the old traditional media world, and it certainly doesn't happen in the world of social media, where things move many times faster.
4. It's easier than ever for people to organize.
Recent Canadian examples like the prorogation of the Canadian Parliament and the proposed introduction of a new Canadian Copyright Act have shown it's becoming easier and easier for people to self-organize around issues that matter to them.
5. Slacktivism still gets attention.
Slacktivism is a term most people hadn't heard of a year or two ago. It essentially means the act of doing something nominal in support of a cause (signing an online petition; joining a Facebook page, etc) which makes the person feel good but does little to further the cause. The flip side of "slacktivism," though, is that right now it still gets media attention. While that may change over time as the novelty wears off, do you want to take that chance?
6. Control is a myth.
I've been saying this in presentations for a long time now - you don't control the message. A news release issued six hours after a crisis breaks is no longer sufficient - you need to be prepared to monitor in real time and respond quickly if necessary. If you're not prepared for when another party advances their agenda, you'll be off-balance when it matters most.
7. Mistakes make the crisis worse.
Nestle compounded the problem with abrupt responses from their rep on their Facebook. Mistakes like that can sabotage any chance of calming the storm early. Having a plan, and practicing it, is critical - that's why governments do things like emergency simulations (difference is their mistakes may cost lives), and why you should do them too.
Given all of these reasons, why would you NOT have a crisis communications plan?