Crisis Management: Internet Crisis Protection: Crisis planning
Everyone knows their company or institution could be criticized or attacked on the Internet. It has happened to a number of my clients. So, let’s turn the Internet around and use it to protect you.
First, lay some groundwork for rapid action. I recommend these first two steps.
A. Prepare a crisis communications plan Spell out strategies in advance so that all you have to do is execute tactics. Outline how you can quickly communicate with customers, board members, stockholders, the public, the media, and other stakeholders. Designate who will make the calls.
B. Catalog vulnerabilities List your worst case or most likely breakdowns, design check-off lists for fixing them, and identify who is responsible. This will ease your mental load under pressure and minimize the probability of missing a critical move. Warning! Checklists often don’t work because crises, by definition, are unpredictable. Do this if you think it will help you act more quickly.
Before I go further remember that if something goes awry, the public will want to know 1) when did you learn about it, and 2) what did you do about it? Crisis planning allows you to execute common sense at lightning speed.
Now let’s look at using the Internet for crisis management via your business website. For expert guidance, I turned to the former president of Design Factory International. His North Carolina company designed and maintained websites, including mine, and he recommended these measures:
1. Designate website crisis designers
Tell them that they will be responsible for modifying your website in an emergency to display critical information. They should know how they will insert your last-minute data. Alan says, at minimum, they should be able to post it within 2 to 3 hours. If they are astute and plan carefully, they could even position urgent messages on the website within 30 minutes.
2. Authorize action in advance
Since getting permission from management often takes longer than actually altering the website, authorize your website managers to act quickly when a crisis strikes and don’t get in their way.
3. Place your crisis response on the homepage
You want your Internet audience to find the new information easily, so don’t bury it. Put a hot button – an icon – on the homepage to direct them to it. Use this icon only in a crisis, and then remove it when the situation is resolved. You do not want visitors to become accustomed to its routine presence and pay no attention to it.
4. Offer varied depth of detail
The public will usually not want as much information as journalists and clients. Therefore, while you will deliver the same basic theme to all audiences, set up one abridged section for the public, and a more comprehensive one for reporters and other serious stakeholders. Consider requiring a password for those entering the in-depth site. Alan says that journalists increasingly survey a website before calling a company for comment.
5. Create a dialogue with visitors
Alan Sterling says you lose feedback if you only use the website to convey your point of view. Think of it as a two-way communication tool. Solicit comments about the current situation from those seeking facts from you. And if you seek comment, then you must have a system for responding to it. Alan says reply promptly, and tell your visitors how long the wait will be. (He said that his staff visits websites to test reaction time and sometimes never gets a reply at all.)
6. Establish an “announcements” section even when there is no crisis
Alan suggests setting up a regular spot where your visitors can routinely find current information about your company. Put your latest news releases or other public announcements there and change or remove them when they are obsolete.
7. Establish an Internet “early warning system”
Being forewarned is forearmed, so routinely search the Internet for chat about your company. Don’t let negatives linger unanswered. Remember that customer complaints about Intel’s initial Pentium chip five years ago originally arose unchallenged on the Internet and grew into a major PR knot that cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars to untie. You may need to hire professionals to perform comprehensive searches for gripes about your business.
8. Most importantly – on the Internet and in all communications – deliver the right message
The medium is only as good as your message. Remember my admonition that the public wants to know “Am I safe?” Your mission is to reassure them that they are. Demonstrate through actions that you are working in their best interests. Do the right thing so that you can say the right thing. Then your website – and its Internet window on the world – will be yet another tool for you to protect the public and your reputation.