And the winner is ... my top 10 tips for crisis management

Poor old Prue Leith.

No sooner had Channel 4 lined up the improved audience ratings press release for the new series of the Great British Bake Off then she only goes and blows it all by tweeting the name of the winner before the final had even been broadcasted. Bravo Prue!

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Yet another example of a 'crisis' being played out on social media. I say 'crisis' because we all know it's really no big deal, except potentially it could have been, if it had impacted on ratings figures and therefore advertising revenue. But Prue has taken the hit, and Channel 4 has come out of it ok, so far.

Crisis communications management is one thing I enjoy, believe it or not. I've been a Head of Communications for a local authority in London, and also delivered a number of courses for civil servants at the Home Office with the brilliant Helpful Technology in how to manage a crisis on social media, so I've got a bit of experience too.

Here are my top 10 tips:

  1. If something does happen, respond quickly and in brief. You need to establish your authority as soon as you can after things go wrong, and get people to come to you for information, not other sources.

 Wetherspoons responded quickly and succinctly to this hoax tweet from a spoof account, wrongly stating that their staff would not be wearing Remembrance day poppies. A quick and brief statement released just hours after the hoax, followed by individual responses to many who commented on the original tweet, prevented a bigger PR crisis for the pub chain.

Wetherspoons responded quickly and succinctly to this hoax tweet from a spoof account, wrongly stating that their staff would not be wearing Remembrance day poppies. A quick and brief statement released just hours after the hoax, followed by individual responses to many who commented on the original tweet, prevented a bigger PR crisis for the pub chain.

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2. But also be human in your response. People want to know that you care before they care what you know. So respond with empathy, whilst also stating the facts and clarifying the situation.

3. And also, be honest and accountable. If you have made a mistake, own up to it. This one may be a concern, especially if you're worried about admittance of liability, but if it's obvious that something has gone wrong, you shouldn't deny it, and you need to make sure people know that you're working to resolve the problem.

4. When things go wrong, forget marketing, it's about communications. So engage, and have a conversation. Don't just roll out a press statement and hope it'll go away; talk to your customers, but more importantly listen, and address their concerns. And make sure you do this throughout the whole crisis, and not just in the immediate aftermath. Don't ignore your customer service in times of crisis, it should be aligned with what you're saying in terms of PR statements and communications messages. 

5. Be proactive when times are good. Build up your brand, your business, your customers and therefore your advocates. These are the people that know you're good at what you do, and that you care about it as well. Because they may be the ones fighting your corner when things go wrong, or at least not judging you for it. You need to be both trusted and respected. This means always having an open door to engagement, talking to your customers, responding to issues, and talking about the things that you do well. Your business as usual communications and marketing plan is just as important in a crisis as your emergency plan.

6. Don't be naive, a crisis could happen to you or your business. So have an emergency plan. Be prepared and manage risks. This emergency plan should cover a lot, including draft statements, who is on call 24/7, what to do if the crisis affects your IT systems, media advice for your spokespeople, who signs off messages, contact numbers for the relevant people and passwords for all your social media accounts. This plan should be distributed across the whole of your business too, and not just kept within the communications team. And if you have time, test it too. This is part of being prepared.

7. Evaluate news coverage and pre-empt stories. When the Grenfell Tower disaster happened, it wasn't just Kensington and Chelsea council who were asked questions. Every local authority in the UK that owned social housing was put under the spotlight around fire safety. This meant media statements that needed drafting, but also pretty complex information and data that needed sourcing. Being prepared for this was critical for hundreds of communications teams across the country.

8. Check hoaxes (aka Fake News). It's all too easy in the heat of the moment, with your CEO breathing down your neck and the complaints coming in, to assume everything you read is true. Don't assume. Check. Confirm the authenticity of the person posting the information, check any photographs using a reverse image search (https://tineye.com/ is good), and don't believe everything you're told. https://www.snopes.com/ is good for the US, but does cover some British stories too. And if something isn't true, deny it as soon as possible.

9. Cancel all scheduled tweets and media activity. Be aware in the light of any crisis of the potential impact of planned marketing or campaigns. Paddy Power fell foul of this when they tweeted during the Paris terror attacks in November 2015 with an ill-timed attempt at humour. The betting company had to hastily apologise for the tweet which had been scheduled previously, before the attacks in France took place.

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10. Be prepared for you not to be the trusted voice. With the impact of smartphones, footage is more readily available, and authority is often overlooked for the 'man on the ground' who are often literally there on the scene at the time. Experts can also often be trusted more than leaders, so consider your staff and whether they can bring a voice to what has happened.

 

And finally, always remember to check once, check twice and check again before you tweet something embargoed, just in case you may be jumping the gun as Prue found out to her cost!