For a brand, a crisis is inevitable—it’s not if, but when. It used to be a crisis happened to only a few organizations—natural disasters disrupting manufacturing, the misconduct of an executive, contaminants found in a food processing plant, or products failing in the field.
We could plan for a handful of potential scenarios, run simulations, and be ready for almost anything. Today, though, it’s not nearly that straightforward—and every brand will face at least once crisis per year, if not more.
It’s not surprising that nearly every respondent to the 2019 PwC Global Crisis Survey, including those who did not report experiencing a crisis, expect to be hit by one in the future. Fully 98% of U.S. responders and 95% of global responders expect something bad to happen.
This is because the reach of social media means new risks go undetected and spread like wildfire. When a corporation fails to meet expectations, the public is quick to condemn, whether the information they judge is true or not. This is when a crisis can occur.
THE PRESSURE TO BE ABOVE REPROACH IS INCREASING FOR BRANDS
We used to inherently trust people or organizations in positions of power. These days, we distribute trust to people like us—our peers. Moreover, we distribute it to those we perceive as peers or friends online, people we’ve never met in real life. With this shift has come a struggle for brands to gain (and keep) the public’s trust.
In a time of huge corporate profitability and increasing social inequality, consumers hold brands to a very high moral standard. In fact, 62% of consumers say they are more attracted to brands that have ethical values and demonstrate authenticity. If they perceive the brand is authentic, transparent, and “human,” they will tell the world (or at least thousands of their social media friends). In the reverse, if they perceive a brand has wronged them or doesn’t uphold the same values they do, that also will be amplified online.
TODAY’S CRISIS PLANS REQUIRE EARLY-WARNING RISK INTELLIGENCE TO SUCCEED
To protect a brand against the onset and spread of these harmful—and sometimes business ending—crises, a communications team must have a robust set of strategies. Here are some of the first steps you can take to keep your brand value intact no matter what crisis comes your way:
Be transparent. Brands that transparently and truthfully serve the ‘greater good’ set themselves up to avoid crises by garnering public favor and growing with purpose. In today’s social climate, brands must be completely transparent about their operations, making it clear where they source their products, how they treat employees, and how they give back to the community. For example, the Unilever purpose-driven brands are more positively received by the public than their regular brands—and they also see accelerated growth.
Create community. With values-based marketing and transparent communications, combined with a reason for people to rally behind your brand, you have community. These are the people who will stand up for you when someone says something negative, react to negative online comments on your behalf, and protect your brand during a crisis.
Have 24/7 social media moderation. Around-the-clock moderation for brand pages and social advertising is essential in order to remove harmful content that’s objectionable to your audience. It's also critical in helping you realize the maximum return-on-investment for your social media campaigns and marketing. A blend of both artificial and human intelligence helps with smart collection and triaging of content. The technology crawls for every possible issue and then a human reviews it to ensure the content meets your specific editorial guidelines.
Invest in early-warning risk intelligence. Observing digital chatter from instigators and influencers 24/7 across the visible and invisible web is the best early-warning signal for alerting on business critical incidents and issues. This allows you to detect real-time risks across social media and the wider web—and effectively predict emerging issues.
Have a crisis management plan. A proactive approach to crisis response means having a plan in place that forecasts what could harm brand value, identifies worst case scenarios and defines how to avoid or mitigate those scenarios should they occur. The more preparation a brand performs in advance, the better equipped it will be to deal with an issue should it arise. A crisis management plan includes tactics such as having templated messaging agreed upon in advance so there isn’t death by committee when a crisis strikes.
Run simulations. Just like a fire drill tests your response to leaving the office in an emergency, a crisis simulation can test the robustness of your crisis response plan. Thoughtful, well-orchestrated simulations reveal the dangerous gaps in your plan and responses through which a crisis can easily slip.
There’s no generic checklist that can prepare you for a crisis. Protecting brand value requires a comprehensive, multi-facetted strategy with both prevention and mitigation tactics. By investing in early-warning risk intelligence, you can predict what could be coming, prepare for that crisis and successfully keep brand value and customer loyalty intact.