Futuristic digital man, recovering PR guy, magic beansman, aspiring know-it-all. Chief Strategy Officer at Northern Army. More...

When was the last time you updated your crisis plan?

Crisis preparedness has always been an important part of communications, but it’s especially so now that practically every employee, customer and competitor has access to a global publishing platform.  But even those companies who have been through the planning and training may be left completely unprepared in times of a real crisis if they’re not ready for a completely different communications  landscape.

So, when did you last update your crisis plan?  If it’s more than three years ago, then chances are that it’s woefully out of date.  Think back to 2006.  Facebook was only beginning to gain popularity.  Twitter hadn’t even seen the light of day.  YouTube had not yet been acquired by Google, and there were still those predicting its failure.

Now, look at the landscape today.  News is breaking through Twitter long before it reaches the cable news networks.  Online video is one of the most popular online activities, with dozens of video sharing sites now occupying the space that was predicted to be a non-entity.

Time has always been of the essence when it comes to responding to a crisis, but that time window has been cut dramatically shorter in the past few years.  The fundamentals still apply, but we have an entirely new toolset at our disposal, and if your crisis preparedness plan still focuses on dealing solely with the mainstream media, you’re ignoring a major channel that has the potential to turn even the smallest spark into a wildfire.

Things have changed dramatically in the last half of the decade.  Crisis preparedness is no longer simply a phone tree and a dark site – it’s an entire playbook that needs to be rehearsed and refined in order to communicate effectively in times of crisis.  The messages may not have changed, but the process has, and missing that fact is a huge communications failure.

Social media isn’t for every organization, I’ll admit.  However, for any organization where crisis preparedness is crucial (which is most), social media absolutely needs to be considered.  News spreads through social media, and it spreads at an alarming speed.  Consider the US Airways flight that crashed into the Hudson river, and the fact that the first photos were seen on Twitter only 10 minutes after takeoff.  The time for dismissing social media as a niche activity is over.  You can only ignore a raging river to the point where it sweeps you into the ocean.

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