Managing Crisis in the Digital Age

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A recap of FPRA’s crisis communications webinar
By Chloe Durham

In our January FPRA webinar, crisis communications expert Melissa Agnes spoke on crisis management in the digital age. She explained that it’s not just social media that often creates trouble for organizations but technology as a whole. People are fascinated by the ability to capture experiences and share them with others while it’s happening.

For example, Melissa shared a story about a deadly train derailment. She described a scene where an uninjured woman’s first reaction was to tweet a picture of the accident, and her second response was to dial 911. This story paints an excellent picture of life in the digital age, where viewers and the media often have information on a crisis before the company has a chance to deal with it themselves.

A crisis management plan is essential to your organization’s ability to respond immediately after a crisis. Melissa’s five steps for a crisis management plan include:

1.  Identify your organization’s high-risk scenarios

Every organization has a handful of specific risks, whether it is product failure, natural disaster, financial risk, or one of the many other potential threats. Knowing what they are will help narrow your strategy for response.

2. Develop your governance model

Your crisis management team should reflect your organization’s day-to-day operation and structure. Within your governance model, identify your key stakeholders and make sure they are included in the first round of communication. This way you can assess the needs of stakeholders and respond accordingly, knowing that your stakeholders understand their roles and responsibilities.

3. Develop scenario-specific playbooks

This playbook should be used within the first 24-48 hours of a crisis and should include scenario-specific action plans with response strategies for every department. The playbook should also contain contact information of those involved, a timeline of events and any related documents.

4. Put your plan and your team to the test

Don’t simply discuss what you would do if a crisis happened, but put your crisis team through a realistic simulation of your high-risk scenarios. This will ensure your plan is practical while preparing your team for crisis.

5. Continuously revise and strengthen

Always be looking out for procedures that need to be added to the plan. As technology changes and progresses, more precautions will need to take place.

After a crisis, organizations are expected to respond faster and louder than ever before. With so much media traffic, you must ensure your response is heard. Melissa reiterated the importance of establishing with the public that your organization is the trusted source of information throughout the entire crisis. If you understand your stakeholders and identify the technology they use, you can successfully and efficiently communicate through crises.

Chloe-DurhamChloe Durham is senior at Southeastern University, majoring in mass communications. She is a student member of FPRA and a PR intern for McLeod Communications

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