Crisis Communications: Preparing for “What’s Next?”

crisis planning - what's next

Once a crisis starts, the question that’s top-of-mind throughout is, “What’s next?” Sometimes, the answer is obvious, but oftentimes it’s anyone’s guess. In every case, however, the answer is the most critical piece of data you need.

By this point, you know what’s happened. You may have a good idea of how it happened and why it happened. You may even have a pretty good idea of how things will ultimately unfold, but the one thing you don’t know is what’s about to happen next.

I recently worked on a crisis management situation where an organization was under attack from people who get paid to be outraged. If they’re not outraged, they don’t get paid, so they’re pretty good at finding reasons to get mad, and finding people and organizations to blame.

They instituted a social media storm to pressure the organization to remove some of its content. They did this first to make it appear that this crisis was a spontaneous, grassroots “backlash” against their pre-selected target. In military terms, it’s how you “soften the target” in issues management situations before you engage directly.  So, at that point they did contact the organization directly.

Their messages were weak. Their case was weak. The public was not on their side and they knew it. We all knew it. But that didn’t stop the mob from trying to see it through.

Certain variables beyond the firm’s control were also at play. Both allies and a few critics were vocally weighing in on the issue, so even if the firm would have acceded to the demands (It wasn’t about to), the situation already had taken its own path. The company smartly held fast and stayed on message and on mission.

In this situation, as in all crisis communications situations, once events start to unfold, you never really know what will happen next. Who will step forward with a new allegation? Will it be credible, or even if not, will it be believed? And that’s just a start.

It’s at this stage where even if you have a good plan in place and you’re executing it, which includes aggressive monitoring of everything, it’s good to keep revisiting possible scenarios for what could happen next and most importantly, how you will or will not respond.

This reinforces one of the tenets of crisis communications. If you’re prepared for what could happen next, you’ll be decisive, deliberate and timely with your response.

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