Every business can be affected by a crisis, it can come due to internal factors, such as: product defect, data leak, bad sales practices, human resources issues (harassment, management behavior) or external factors: new policies, provider issues, misuse of product, or a production incident.

When it comes to dealing with a crisis, we tend to react in very different manners. But when a crisis affects your business there are ways to smoothen the journey.

Crises occur every other day, not just when you turn 40.

Being prepared makes thing easier

Indeed. But where to start? How do you know what to be prepared for? A good starting point is to do a risk assessment audit. Usually used only for risks related to IT, it can be extended to all of your activities. It is mostly a matter of involving people from several departments of your organization and tell them what the worst that can happen. This can affect operations (stopping the activity, slowing down production, delaying projects, limiting access to tools or data), reputation and bottom line. Keep in mind that some effects can last several months or even years.

Start with a shortlist of risks that you will prioritize using a matrix with probability (how likely the problem can occur) and severity (how big an impact).

At first, focus on the high and serious risks to inform your actions and messages.

Of course, it’s impossible to have a full plan for every case, but the mere exercise of listing potential risks raising awareness within your organization. I will give you a real-life example. At Mention, a social and web monitoring solution, we were helped by our parent company to do this exercise (at the time we were a 50+ organization). One of the findings was a data leak on the alerts (search queries to monitor keywords) created by our customers was a severe risk. At first, my colleagues were like “Oh, no one cares if CUSTOMER A is monitoring KEYWORD”. But after toying with the concept, we came up with not so benign searches like “CUSTOMER NAME + union”, monitoring potential union actions or creation of a union. You can swap “union” with “ecoactivist” or “harassment”. It could also be revealing of their upcoming new products, market research, etc. So it was a BIG DEAL.

A risk assessment makes you aware of potential crisis you didn’t think could exist.

Some crises can catch you off-guard because they are harder to be identified as potential risks. Two examples so you can see that you need to get creative in your assessment:

Counterfeit products. Let’s say you are a well-known manufacturer of spare parts for the automotive industry. Someone has an accident putting the spotlight on the brakes disc pads. Unfortunately, it’s branded as being their product… when in fact it was a counterfeit product. Still, the brand is stained and has to deal with the article headlined “MANUFACTURER NAME’s defective product provokes the death of a family of 4”.

Data privacy. It happened to one of our partners who provides a SaaS solution. One of its customers with a high profile got its account hijacked leading to a crisis…. that rippled to the software provider thanks to its client pointing the finger at them. (and maybe forgetting to mention that the account was accessed using a non-secured password). An unforeseen turn of event when you provide a very secured software and are a trusted company. Lesson learned, 2FA is now in action!

Listening is foreseeing

A crisis is always in the making, it might prove hard to spot if you are not properly equipped. Weak signals can come in multiple ways: through your customer support, your partner network, review sites, blog article, Facebook groups, news websites.

There is always a crisis in the making.

It is often hard to spot that something is happening. Ideally, you will subscribe to a listening/monitoring tool to be able to track what is being said. Technology allows you to listen to a vast array of sources and to uncover the trends. Look at the volume and sentiment changes when it comes to your brand and products, but also to topics that are related to you (industry, policies, known risks). Analyze the negative mentions and spot the new topics you should monitor based on your observation (this needs to be updated on a regular basis). This way you might be better prepared for what’s coming.

(Re)acting

In addition to listening, you can shield your reputation by doing some preemptive actions.

For example, you can protect your company from bad reviews by collecting 5-stars ratings from your happy customers. This way you can counterbalance a few 1-star reviews. Don’t limit yourself to your favorite review site but also include the ones that are popular and where you might already featured in. You don’t need to collect hundreds of ratings, just a few can give you some leeway to anticipate bad press.

Facing the storm

A crisis is coming your way or is are already upon you. As a simple rule of thumb, here is the ultimate checklist of the 10 actions to do if a crisis emerges (see the beauty of clickbait)

  1. Brace yourself. Make sure that the people have an understanding on how to react and enough autonomy to act. At this stage, you cant to avoid losing too much time between approvers.
  2. Assess the situation. Investigate what the crisis is and how impactful it is so you can adapt your response.
  3. Internal messaging. The cat is out of the bag, don’t try to put it back in. The management knows at this point and your team should too. The clearer you are with what is happening, the simpler it will be to control what they do/say. Making sure that employees stick to the official messaging is key. But they can only do it if they know the crisis is happening.
  4. Sent acknowledgment. Be honest and transparent. A first response must be ultra-fast and the more structured message should follow not far behind (a day at most depending on your organization visibility).
  5. Set your social pages to private. This is a temporary situation and it will protect you from being overwhelmed by messages. This obviously needs to be part of your acknowledgment.
  6. Stop your paid acquisition campaigns. This is an easy thing to miss (a great learning I got from agencies).
  7. Do your homework. You need to understand what happened and fix what can be.
  8. Activate your ambassadors. Your partners and customers that know you best can defend you and be leveraged to counterbalance any negative feedback. Some will support you no matter what, you have to know them and talk to them!
  9. Analyze and iterate. Post mortems are good also for the survivors! Learn from your mistakes, analyze how you detected the crisis, how fast you reacted and what were the steps done. Also measure the impact of the crisis on tickets, comments, sentiment,… And of course, try to find ways to limit the risks of it happening again.
  10. Clean up the mess. This will be covered in the next part!

Crisis always leaves a stain, you can mut it or put the spolight somewhere else… but it cannot be removed.

Cleaning up

The cleaning part must happen because the Internet is an unforgiving place that never forgets. You want people to remember how you dealt with the crisis by sharing a version of the postmortem with some storytelling on how it affected your organization and what changed because of it… this can be done on your blog or a press release.

You might also want to burry the crisis. This way, people will not find out about it after the fact. To do so, you can work with SEO specialists who will help you generate the content it takes to push the nasty results to the next page of results. They can also work on requesting the content to be removed when relevant.

If you want to watch the full conference, it is available here: https://live.acolad.com/replay-destination-international-1

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.

CMO Hivency.com, leading influencer marketing platform. Former CMO of @Mention, @Ulule, @Bolden.