Crisis management and communication is, it’s fair to say, a hot topic. As we know, social media and content marketing offer ideal platforms for creating trusting communities and building connections. But when your brand encounters a crisis, maintaining a sense of trust and integrity isn’t quite as easy. Following last week’s blog where my colleague Jenna discussed the ins and outs of how to manage and communicate change, here we see how handling a brand in crisis – an extreme form of change management – preserve your community and emerge back at the top of your industry.

Maintain a sense of trust and integrity

Choose a model

Without a plan in place, crisis management can get complicated quickly. Take the time to decide on your approach to crisis management in advance, and your team members will know exactly how to react when an issue arises. Many brands opt to follow one of the main crisis management methodologies, which help in assessing the root of the problem and determining an appropriate response.

Image Repair Theory

This theory centres on the concept that a brand must protect its image or reputation when a crisis occurs. Image Repair Theory (IRT) suggests five responses a brand can have when attacked:

  • Deny: The brand outright denies the severity of the crisis or attempts to shift blame to another entity.
  • Evade responsibility: The brand paints the crisis as accidental or unavoidable or claims to have performed the crisis-causing action with good intentions.
  • Reduce offence: The brand minimises any negative feelings and reduces any apparent offensiveness.
  • Correct action: The brand attempts to correct the action that caused the crisis.
  • Claim mortification: The brand apologises and asks for forgiveness.

Situational Crisis Communications Theory

This model focuses on assessing how the crisis will affect the brand’s reputation and aims to create understanding of how stakeholders will respond to the situation. Within the Situational Crisis Communications Theory (SCCT), you’ll find three clusters of crises:

  • Victim: When the brand is a victim of the crisis, there’s only a minor threat to reputation at stake.
  • Accident: When the brand has unintentionally caused the crisis, there’s a medium threat to reputation at stake.
  • Intentional: When the brand has purposely taken a risk and caused a crisis, there’s a significant threat to reputation at stake.

Next, the SCCT prompts the crisis managers to select from three potential strategies based on IRT strategies:

  • Deny: Attack the accuser, deny the cause and blame an external entity for the crisis.
  • Diminish: Deny harmful intent or emphasise inability to control the situation, minimising damage.
  • Rebuild: Offer monetary or other forms of compensation to victims along with a complete apology.

Social-Mediated Crisis Communication Model

This model is designed to aid management of crises in a digital environment. The Social-Mediated Crisis Communication Model (SMCC) focuses on identifying distinct groups of constituents and communicating with them as appropriate:

  • Influencers: Important social media figures who create and share crisis-related information.
  • Followers: Constituents who follow the brand on social channels and consume crisis-related content.
  • Inactives: Those who receive crisis-related information secondhand, either by word of mouth or through traditional media.

Integrated Crisis Mapping Model

This model focuses on assessing and reacting to stakeholders’ emotions during a crisis. The Integrated Crisis Mapping Model (ICM) centres on two factors:

  • Public response: When a crisis occurs, members of the public typically express anger, fear, anxiety or sadness. The brand can attempt to affect the public response or simply allow it to run its course.
  • Level of organisational engagement: The brand can offer anything from sustained, resource-intensive engagement to low-impact, laissez-faire engagement. Research has shown that higher levels of engagement and concrete actions tend to yield the best results.

Assess the situation

Crises come in all shapes and sizes. To know when to act, your team members will need to understand what constitutes a crisis. Does an inflammatory comment on social media constitute a crisis? What about a negative review in the press? How about a product recall or lawsuit?

In addition to selecting a crisis management model, make sure you clarify when your team members should start their work. If your communications team isn’t already monitoring mentions of your brand, consider whether this is something you can do internally or whether you’re best served by finding a vendor to help analyse your company’s social presence and inform you about relevant conversations and changes in tone.

Does an inflammatory comment on social media constitute a crisis?

Be transparent

No matter which model you follow, transparency is essential. Start by establishing clear communication within your brand, and ensure that you never leave your extended crisis management team in the dark. Communication can come in the form of an internal memo, a company-wide email or even an emergency meeting.

Don’t leave the public in the dark, either. Although you might use a different tone or share specific information with your stakeholders depending on the model you choose, you should always aim to communicate with clear intentions. React quickly, maintain sincerity and offer constructive responses.

Transparency is essential – start by establishing clear communication

Keep your cool

When a crisis escalates, it’s easy to lose your composure and stray from the script. Even if you’ve opted to deny the attack as outlined in the IRT or the SCCT, your brand won’t benefit if you lash out at customers, social media followers or other stakeholders.

The path of a crisis can change quickly, even when your team members have done their best to keep the situation under control. Be prepared to respond and readjust with a level head, even when things appear to have taken a turn for the worse.

Find the silver lining

In the heat of the moment, a crisis might seem like the end of the world or at least a sign of a serious challenge to your brand’s reputation. Rather than dwelling on the negative aspects, try to focus on the potential positives.

A crisis enables your brand to rebuild its reputation from the ground up. In this situation, you’ll have the chance to connect with stakeholders like never before and work to regain their trust. If your brand takes the high road and demonstrates that it’s learned from tough lessons, you could emerge stronger than before.

If your brand takes the high road and demonstrates that it’s learned from tough lessons, you could emerge stronger

Don’t risk allowing a minor issue to compromise your brand. Even if your brand has an excellent reputation, it’s in your best interest to have a crisis management plan in place. You’ll be prepared to react when necessary, guide the conversation as it unfolds and regain the trust of your customers straightaway.

A crisis might not be a welcome development, but with the right management and communications strategy in place it can still be an opportunity to rebuild trust in your brand.

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