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  • Writer's picturerjbardsley

Crisis Communication in the Digital Age: Best Practices for Brands

In today’s hyperpolarized world, even a seemingly innocuous comment could turn into a crisis for an organization. And with our 24/7 news cycle and social media, organizations need to be thoughtful while moving quickly to manage a crisis well. After all, an organization’s brand, reputation, employee trust and customer loyalty are at stake.

When a crisis occurs, here are some public relations best practices all communicators should keep in mind:

  • First, take stock of what you know and what you don’t yet see.  Determine what happened, who or what is affected, how it happened, and how the media and social media channels are covering it.  Remember – speed and accuracy both matter – it’s okay to say that you are still in the process of gathering information.

  • The best crisis responses should prioritize the well-being of affected parties, demonstrate empathy and outline clear action plans. Don’t be afraid to look at crises that have happened in the past and learn from them. The gold standard, often cited in communications textbooks is the Tylenol tampering incident in the 1980s, where Johnson & Johnson’s transparency and immediate response defined early best practices for consumer crisis management.

  • Set milestones quickly – and make them achievable. For instance, your first priority might be to fully understand the scope of the crisis; second could be to establish and prep a spokesperson; third could be to outline a solution and get buy-in from management or the board.  Your ultimate goal may be to bring back trust in the organization or continue a proven track record of being reliable and trustworthy. But break that down into smaller, more achievable steps.  This will ultimately help you move faster.

  • Clearly articulate both business and communications actions. Often times, a crisis will require a business solution – product improvements, security enhancements, personnel changes.  In a perfect world, business solutions are worked out first, then the communications team develops a response plan.  But in practice, comms and business leaders are often working in parallel to find and implement a solution.  Remember – even the best communications programs cannot remedy a business problem.

  • There are two types of crises – Ones that you see coming and try to avoid, and those that occur unexpectedly. Have a plan in place before a crisis starts; this will help you in either case.  You wouldn’t open an office without an evacuation or emergency plan; you should take the same care with your comms program – get a plan in place immediately and revisit it during the first quarter of each year. 





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