How to Manage Crisis Communications in the Digital Era

This is an overview of my presentation at a recent Washington WNG Forum.

Crisis communications management in the digital era … like that of image and reputation management … is a skillful blend of proven methods and new digital techniques. Think of it as strategy (planning) and tactics (tools).

world_internetProven methods:

  • Advance strategic planning and consensus building.
  • Communications has an executive “seat at the table.”
  • Deep expertise and extensive connections.

New digital techniques:

  • Exceptional credentials with the latest online digital and social media technology.
  • Nimbleness … Knowledge and resources to act quickly.


Acknowledge the devastating potential of not being prepared. Internet visionary Mark Cuban has said:

“In the Internet age, executives have to learn how to shape information about themselves and their companies, or the Internet will do it for them, and it won’t be pretty.”

Understand the power of the digital era:

Mark Cuban

Mark Cuban

Today’s fractured mainstream/online media … online digital revolution … social media environment has become a daunting, sometimes hostile place – especially to novices – where crisis can quickly spin out of control.

Crisis management planning starts well before any crisis. Here are preliminary steps to be taken now:

  • Invest in knowing influencers, the media and social media. Actually know and build relationships with people in the media and bloggers. Do not rely on press release services, like Vocus.
  • Learn, listen, monitor, engage, befriend, follow, and be accessible. Use Twitter to listen … as an early warning system.
  • Identify and build consensus among members of a crisis team as to who does what.
  • Get leadership of your organization aware of the importance, trained and involved.
  • Establish a resource team of skilled individuals to handle everything from legal counsel to online management and social media.
  • Drive home the point that crisis preparedness is the best kind of image and brand value protection.
  • Identify a crisis situation meeting place or communications connection discipline.
  • Get every team member trained on Google+ Hangouts for remote access.
  • Avoid wasting valuable time on written documents, such as press releases.
  • Never hide behind paper, legal-speak or third-party spokespeople, like lawyers or PR agencies.
  • Forget about the fear of being sued for something said during a crisis.
  • Learn to show empathy. Be open, transparent, truthful and supportive. Be a resource for timely and accurate information.

Never attempt to manage a crisis on the main website as BP foolishly did during the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The reminder of the crisis will be forever on Google.

BP_main website

Use new digital techniques and tools.

  • Know how to quickly create a crisis news site, utilizing the nimbleness, speed and SEO/social media power of WordPress.
  • Register … now … the basic “news” domains: www.yourorganizationnews dot com and org.
  • Work with a creative designer to create a basic site banner and other design needs … now.
  • In a crisis, use the temporary news site for updates, photos, video, social media links.
  • Write news style, not announcements. Use clarity, simple words.
  • Deliver a continuous, daily flow of news updates.
  • Do not post press releases which are seen as self-promotional by their very nature.
  • Emphasize the need internally for continuity of voice and words across all public digital and social media platforms.
  • Must do now: Skillfully know how to use social media, including Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Stumbleupon, Digg, Newsle, Google+.
  • Social media for image, reputation and crisis requires establishing and building social media accounts now … which will have brand-enhancing benefit now … and during time of crisis.
  • A consistent social media initiative must grow significantly in Followers, Following and engagement.
  • Continuity of voice and message across social media and online is essential.
  • Most of all, avoid the “message gulf.” Avoid allowing self-serving or defensive internal messages from confusing outside perspective … or you will risk appearing out of touch.

Message gulfMy presentation – How to Manage Crisis Communications in the Digital Era – is online. Copyright 2013 David Henderson.