Crisis Communication in the Digital Era: Updating Strategies for Effective Response
By Cara Sloman, Force4 Technology Communications
Before making an investment in a startup, venture capitalists (VCs) have a list of factors to consider that impact their decision, including the strength of the company’s business concept and plan, its market potential, the management team and risk assessment. Part of their assessment includes the company’s crisis communications capabilities.
Crisis communication has undergone a profound transformation in the digital era, reshaping how organizations respond to and manage crises. With the rapid dissemination of information through digital channels, including social media, news websites and instant messaging apps, crises can escalate within seconds, demanding swift and strategic communication strategies. Organizations must adapt to this evolving landscape to safeguard their reputation and navigate crises – and VC activity – successfully.
Social Media in Crisis Comms
Startups and enterprises face challenges in crisis communication, including:
- Managing misinformation and rumors
- Proliferation of false information (and its impact) during crises
- Managing public sentiment and maintaining control of the message
Social media has dramatically changed crisis management. If not handled properly, social media can spread a crisis like wildfire. Social media can propel misinformation, rumors or criticism faster and wider than traditional media, damaging reputation and credibility. Unlike traditional media that regularly fact-checks editorial, anyone can say anything on social media.
Preparing and Responding to Crisis
That’s why a crisis communications plan with clear roles and responsibilities is vital.
Ensure there is a plan with clear roles and responsibilities. A solid crisis communications strategy can help to protect a business’s reputation, revenue and clientele. Knowing what to do in advance of a crisis guarantees a chain of command that conveys a consistent message and can aid in preventing irreversible harm.
There are two key ways that companies can proactively prepare for potential crises:
- Identifying risk areas and having crisis communications plans – Identify potential risk areas and have a crisis communications plan for each major risk area. Test and update them regularly. Make sure all stakeholders and employees across the company understand the plan, communications protocol and their roles in the crisis response.
- Employee training and social listening tools as essential components – Regular training is essential for keeping this top of mind, so people know what to do if/when a crisis hits. Social listening is an important tool that can help organizations monitor, analyze and engage with their online audience, especially during a crisis. Cutting-edge social media listening tools are essential to keeping a finger on the pulse of what is being talked about. Savvy PR practitioners get out in front of potential crises by setting up alerts and keywords, and doing sentiment analysis – tracking the volume, reach and tone of the conversations around the brand and the industry.
In addition, there should be a designated contact person to direct all press queries to the company’s PR representative so that they can assess the nature of the inquiry and the best course of action. Additionally, businesses should choose two or three internal spokespersons who know about a range of subjects, are media-savvy and have received media training. The best press connections are typically the CEO or the vice president of marketing.
Potential Pitfalls and Emerging Trends
Without a crisis communication strategy, organizations typically respond more slowly, struggle to know what to say and are unclear about everyone’s responsibilities. Due to the lack of clarity, companies spend more time trying to come up with a strategy than taking action.
When assessing a company’s long-term viability, VCs should be aware of emerging trends in crisis communication. You should expect to see more comprehensive integration of risk and crisis management. In the era of digital transformation, understanding the complexity of the technology, data and operating environments becomes even more crucial.
VCs should check for coherence across various company divisions to evaluate the possible impact of risks and actions to manage them, such as having a strong crisis comms plan in place.
Effective Crisis Comms
Crisis communication in the digital era is a pivotal factor that VCs consider when assessing a company’s long-term viability. The digital landscape has transformed crisis management, with social media playing a central role. Misinformation and rumors can spread rapidly, damaging a company’s reputation and credibility. To mitigate such risks, companies must have clear crisis communication plans, regularly updated and well-understood by all stakeholders. Employee training and social listening tools are vital components, enabling proactive crisis preparation. In the digital age, adapting to these strategies is crucial for both companies and investors alike.