Sometimes business crises are unavoidable.
The old rule of thumb was that the first 24 hours of your company's response were the most critical. But with the Internet playing an increasingly significant role as an information distribution medium, today's businesses must be prepared to respond within minutes of a crisis event.
The speed at which negative publicity spreads on the Internet can make your head spin. The only way to combat the viral potential of online resources like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube is to fight fire with fire. In this day and age your business won't survive a major crisis without an online crisis communications plan.
When it comes to online media and PR crisis management, here are a few best practices to follow:
- Organize social media response mechanisms. When a piece of negative publicity hits the Internet, its first stop will probably be on sites like Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube – social media sites where information quickly passes from one person to the next. That means you need to be prepared to rapidly communicate your crisis PR messages on those same sites.
- Designate staff to monitor online media. If a negative news item has any legs at all, it will spread from social media sites to other online media outlets. In the middle of a crisis, you need to know what's being said about your business. As part of your online crisis communications plan, designate a few individuals to survey the online landscape until the crisis has passed.
- Prepare "dark sites". Dark sites are websites that have been prepared for multiple crisis scenarios, but remain invisible until the crisis actually occurs. Although it's impossible to know the details of a crisis before it happens, activated dark sites post an immediate, generic response until more details are available.
- Be ready to generate quick content. When a crisis hits, you need to have the resources in place to generate quick, online content. If you don't have a copywriter on staff, consider making an arrangement with a freelancer for on-call crisis copy.
- Maintain up-to-date client mailing lists. One of the most effective online crisis communications tools you have is the ability to e-mail existing clients. But if your client mailing lists are old or out of date, you'll lose the power to communicate directly with your most important customers.
- Utilize online video. Online video sites like YouTube have proven themselves to be valuable online PR tools. Expand your designated crisis spokesperson's responsibilities to include the creation of online videos and video conferencing.