According to communications consultancy Ketchum, effective leadership in times of crisis is centered around transparency, honesty, empathy and respect.
Communicating openly, admitting mistakes, collaborating in finding solutions, caring for those directly and indirectly affected, showing respect for different cultures and keeping your word are essential for managing reputation risk.
The number one thing you have to remember is to HAVE A PLAN. A clear and detailed crisis communication manual, delineating teams and structures, responsibilities, steps to be taken, channels to be used, style guides and time frames. Because shit happens. And it will hit the fan.
In the age of social media, even minor incidents can snowball out of control, and once they’ve been amplified by frantic sharing and are being picked up by traditional, offline media, it’s already too late to salvage your company’s reputation.
Time is of the essence. Which brings us to the first point:
1. Speed of response.
According to Curtin University, you have to act quickly to prevent reaching the point of no return, where there will be lasting damage to your reputation. In the online environment, this means you should probably communicate within 15 minutes of a story breaking or an incident happening. Which brings us to number two:
2. Leadership and transparency.
It is always better to take charge and break your own bad news. This helps you establish yourself as the source of credible information, anchor your facts and avoid being on the defensive. Accept responsibility and admit mistakes if it’s the case. Be fair.
3. Empathy and realism.
Even though your job is to protect the company’s reputation, this needs to take a back seat to showing actual, real and honest concern for the reality of the incident, and for those involved in it. All the more so if people have been hurt. People come first. Turn off your business-as-usual social media updates and adjust your online presence.
Engage your detractors, resist the combative or aggressive impulse, and don’t let rumors build up and spiral out of control.
5. Active communication and appropriate messaging.
You want consistent, clear communication across all channels, but no copy-paste. Centralize communications and spread the word. Understand the media and their purpose, and understand your audiences. Keep stakeholders up to date, provide videos and images.
Put up a spokesperson and encourage dialogue with your representative. Maintain credibility and professionalism at all times. Train employees beforehand, and brief them in the event of a crisis – they need to be informed and to know what information to pass on to customers, as they are often the first point of human contact; get them ready and involved.
7. Authenticity and action.
Show respect and talk like a real person, avoid cold jargon, and deliver on your promises. Align words with actions and assist and care for those directly affected. Take steps to fix the problem, to prevent it from happening again, collaborate with investigators and learn from mistakes. Coordinate effectively with other parties.
Remember: customers perceive, interpret perceptions, and form a conviction before they eventually get bored of the subject and stop following it (you) altogether – which means you have a small window of opportunity to leave a lasting (and positive) impression. Stay alert, monitor the media and your reputation, maintain your crisis plan up to date and be on your toes!
For more on this and other communication topics, feel free to contact me.
Sources: Curtin University via Coursera.com, IATA Crisis Communication Manual, HubSpot.