Crisis Communications: How to Spot a Crisis Before It Happens

Crisis Management

You can’t predict the future, and with that in mind, you can’t predict every crisis before it may happen. But one of the things I’ve built into crisis planning over the years is an early-warning process for anticipating and identifying potential crises.

There’s no magic to it. Mostly, it’s a matter of constant vigilance and discipline in monitoring your own intelligence channels. That said, this is and should be a very active process built into the day-to-day work of the communications function. Here are three ways:

Social Media Monitoring

Not every negative social media post is a crisis or even a potential crisis. This is important because in some organizations, it’s all too common for staffers to blow off potential threats. While in other organizations, social media staffers treat every negative post as a crisis unto itself.

The questions to ask when analyzing social media activity are: Does this post have the potential to disrupt the organization’s day-do-day operations? Is a pattern of similar posts starting to form? Does it appear these negative posts are part of an orchestrated campaign against us? What’s the potential that any of these posts would trigger larger media coverage or other negative attention?  Of course, there are other questions to ask, but you get the point. Don’t take social media traffic lightly. Monitor it, but don’t be too quick to label everything a crisis. That way when you do encounter posts that could lead to a true crisis you’ll be that much better prepared.

Build an Internal “Beat Reporter” Network

News organizations are usually built around an efficient-functioning network of beat reporters. Each beat reporter is assigned one or more ‘beats’ to cover so that the larger news organization doesn’t miss the important stuff. You can create a similar model for monitoring potential crisis communications threats.

The first step is to identify those beats and your contacts within your new network. The beats may be Human Resources, Legal, Operations, Sales and Marketing, Social Media, Customer Service, Investor Relations or Donor Relations. There may be others.

Within each of these functions, you want to establish a point of contact who will share information with you on a regular basis. This could be reports from meetings, internal correspondence that is approved for sharing with you, your own attendance at some of their meetings or on their calls.

Assign someone on your team to keep in regular, proactive contact with each of these functions.

One way I’ve found to get things started is simply to take someone in each of these functions out to lunch or coffee, or to have an internal meeting with them. Go over the part of the crisis plan that pertains to them, and dig into the kinds of scenarios involving their function that could create a crisis situation for the organization. You want to help them develop a sort of radar for possible crisis communications threats so that they know when to alert you to potential risks as early as possible.  Hopefully they will do this with enough time so that you can prepare to diffuse or effectively respond to the situation.

Keep in mind, this is not a one-off. If you only have one up-front meeting with your contact, your early warning system will be ineffective. You have to maintain regular contact with each of your ‘beat reporters’ so that it becomes second-nature to them to alert you to possible matters that could require your attention for crisis management.

Media Trend Monitoring

Not all communications crises start at your organization. Global supply chain disruptions could have a ripple effect on your organization. New regulations coming out of Washington could do the same. A national activist group may be targeting organizations like yours.  The point is, it may not be long before matters outside of your organization’s direct control could find their way to your organization, and you will have to address it.

Just like that beat reporter system, make sure someone within the communications function is monitoring the general news media every day with an explicit eye towards outside developments that could present crisis management challenges for your organization. Keyword searches and automated alert systems can help in this way.

Make this part of everyday interaction with your team so that a preventative mindset takes hold in your own organization.

The more routine it becomes to maintain such vigilance, the more crisis preparedness becomes part of your culture. This way, you’ll have the best chance to minimize or even prevent a crisis.

Is crisis preparedness on your mind. Get in touch, I’d love to chat.

Posted in Content Development & Writing, Corporate & Strategic Communication, Crisis & Issues Management, General, PR & Media Relations, Workplace Communications and tagged , , , , , .