Crisis Averted – See that wasn’t so scary!

By: Christa A. Nelson, MBA

If part of your job description includes reputation management, you don’t have to look very far to find “scary” examples of employees, executives and even leaders putting their foot in their mouth. The thought of these public relations crisis scenarios are a marketers worst nightmare. It’s one thing when a movie star is caught doing something wrong, but it’s another thing altogether when a company relies on their reputation to exist. Research shows a significant increase in the negative impact on a corporate identity affecting the consumer’s decision to buy over the past few years. The fact that an organization’s strong reputation can be shattered in as little as 140 characters is scary.

What is the Golden Rule?

One of my favorite attorneys, Tricia Hoffman-Simanek always says, “If you wouldn’t say it in an elevator, it shouldn’t be said in an email or on social media.” This, I would say is the golden rule for reputation management in this fast paced digital world and a good start to avoiding a crisis. If you wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing that information with someone in the tight confines of an elevator, don’t share it in an email or online. Do not be fooled, email is not private. Just because you have that privacy notice in the footer means nothing. Even if you delete it off of the internet, once it is out there… you can’t take it back. Nothing is ever really truly deleted.

Where is the line… how do we know if we’ve crossed it?

The line is very hard to define, especially in a world that changes so fast, what was considered politically correct even 2 years ago is now a gray area. We all know that people are passionate about – racism, corruption, sexual harassment, religion, social injustice, politics … the list is endless. In this viral world where 24 hours news and social media are immediate – it is not hard to cross the line and offend someone. With a little spin and an attention catching meme you can count on “bad news traveling fast!”

Do you have a social media policy in your employee handbook?

Because there are so many ways to destroy an organization’s reputation, the most crucial factor is to be ready, having a protocol in place and clearly communicating that policy and your expectations with everyone will be essential. Eighty-nine percent of the public are influenced by the reputation of a company according to opinion research developed by Princeton University. Having a social media policy to help protect that opinion is not longer a luxury, it is a necessity.

Do you have a crisis management protocol?

With the right groundwork and approach, an organization can be ready to put the damper on bad press. Have you ever heard this saying, “hope for the best but prepare for the worst?” The worst time to think about a crisis is when you are in one. Having a clearly outlined plan for dealing with a crisis will allow for a swift succinct response and go a long way to starting to rebuild what the incident tried to destroy. Publicity molds public opinion so your message needs to be in the context of news, not advertising. Traditionally, consumers believe the news media is more unbiased so they believe the message. Although in the current sensationalistic media climate you will need to take extra care on which media outlet you choose to deliver your message. This is where having an ally in the media can prove to be beneficial. The investment an organization makes in cultivating a favorable and caring public identity can pay dividends.

Being prepared allows you to control the message. Having a company-wide plan in place will empower you to act quickly and effectively when a crisis begins. Instead of wasting time debating how to handle things, you’ll be empowered to act and prevent the crisis from growing out of control.

Where do I start?

  • Have a Social Media Policy.
  • Clearly communicate that policy often.
  • Have a clearly defined Crisis Management Protocol.
  • Brainstorm scenarios to that could happen to the organization.
  • Have a spokesperson chosen – Have them media trained, now.
  • Have a support team ready with writing, design, web development, social media and digital marketing skills.
  • Have the organization’s CEO on speed dial.
  • Have experts for every situation imaginable ready to help with information.
  • Have clearly defined guidelines for identifying the type and magnitude of a crisis.
  • Define roles and responsibilities for every department.
  • Develop a communication plan for internal updates.
  • Keep up-to-date contact information for critical employees accessible remotely.
  • Maintain updated information for media people – local, regional and national.
  • Provide clearly communicated guidelines for employees – Be prepared to speak to employees first.
  • Provide approved message for employees, receptionists and media.
  • Provide approval processes for messaging posted on the web including social media – social media can be an essential tool.
  • Outline and provide any pre-approved external messaging, images, and information.
  • Have a copy of the company-wide social media policy.
  • Outline of exact steps everyone should take.
  • Be prepared to monitor conversations on social media, news outlets and other online sources.
  • Have a communication’s team ready if you need outside help – an outside team can see things we can’t internally evaluate – ever hear the expression, “can’t see the forest for the trees?”
  • Practice, practice and more practice.


If you would like help creating a social media policy or a crisis management protocol, the team at MCS would love to assist. Give us a call or stop by the office.

Solving problems in a single bound. Super Marketer
Christa, Super Marketer, Solving problems in a single bound.