By Nancy Drexler
A click happens quickly. We've all hit "Send" when we meant to hit "Delete," and I'm certainly not the only person to "Reply All" for a response that was intended for just one person. In today's digital world, we are vulnerable to split-second clicks. Corporate giant JPMorgan Chase learned this the hard way when it invited guests on Twitter to tweet questions for its new Vice Chairman Jimmy Lee.
Some of the tweeted questions were:
If we use digital and social media, we must assume things will go wrong. Here's how to be prepared.
Expect the best, but prepare for the worst. Some "crises" are predictable: when you assess annual fees or compliance fees, make leadership changes, or manage the latest government regulation, assume there will be pushback. But even good news can create a communications crisis. A new product rollout will have glitches; a new hire will call that person's past into a public forum.
Your organization's credibility and reputation will be influenced by your response during these situations. To react quickly and consistently, it is essential to have a communications plan in place.
Every company needs a crisis management team. These teams should represent decision-makers from all key departments: operations, risk management, customer service, marketing and sales. Legal counsel on staff might also be included. As quickly as possible, pull your team together to produce an action plan. It should define what constitutes a crisis, who to contact if a crisis becomes apparent and what your company's overall priorities are when managing a crisis. It should contain up-to-date contact information for each "audience," such as your ISOs, merchants, staff and, of course, targeted media.
For each audience, include what method will be used to communicate (email, text message or personal phone call) and from whom that communication should come. Distribute this plan to all staff members. It will, in essence, tell each of them, "If this happens, notify this person." That person will notify key team members, or in serious cases, call a team meeting.
While it is always better to react to a crisis immediately, it is never a good idea to react impulsively. Your first objective is to define the impact of the crisis. Who already knows? Who will know soon enough? What is the maximum damage, both financially and to your brand? And, of course, what are the facts?
Regardless of who is right or wrong, your aim is always to limit damage. Typically, this begins with acknowledgment – a clear statement that you are aware of the issue and applying all resources toward addressing it. But what comes next? Should you offer sympathy? Apology? Compensation? Should you deny the allegations outright? Ignore them?
Sympathy can be a less expensive way to apologize and shape opinion of the organization in crisis. Additionally, an apology might open you up for legal consequences. So this is the time to look at the facts and explore the ramifications of each possible course of action.
Determine exactly what your corporate response will be, and how it will be communicated. Sometimes a very limited response is better than a broad response. Often, an in-person response is wiser than a written one. Always, a calm, consistent response is preferable to an emotional one. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.
In addition to messages you send to each of your impacted audiences, communicating with staff is critical. Rumor and innuendo can spread quickly through cubicles. Assure staff that you are aware of, and in control of, the situation. Let them know how to respond to questions or issues. And inform them of what they should do if an issue seems to warrant an executive response.
A reassuring tone will limit speculation and exaggeration. A clear, concise action plan will ensure a singularity of message. People will talk. Your goal is to influence how they talk about you. And that is as simple as planning ahead.
Nancy Drexler is the President of Acquired Marketing, a boutique marketing firm for businesses in the payments industry. To learn more about what Acquired Marketing can do for you, visit www.acquiredmarketing.com, call 917.743.5258 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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