While most companies utilize crisis communications plans to inform customers, employees, media and others, many do not include a digital component to help preserve their reputation with target audiences. The purpose of a digital crisis communications manual or plan is to provide specific strategies, resources and processes to engage with followers and others in an effective and timely manner. The additional planning and resources allow the broader crisis communications team to focus more on directing overall strategy and implementing tactical measures, instead of being mired in digital monitoring and responding.
Digital crisis plans include several elements that are commonly found in traditional manuals such as organizational charts, contact directories, access information for digital channels and best practices. One of the most important elements is to identify team members and specific responsibilities. For a digital crisis group, common roles to consider include a digital director that might report to the broader crisis team. Additional roles may include digital team coordinators that assist with monitoring, content development and other functions, as applicable to a company’s digital footprint.
However, there are several areas where digital crisis plans fall short. One of the most frequent issues is that companies overcomplicate the manual with painfully detailed procedures, flow charts and more. The plan must strike the right balance of being thorough, but not so cumbersome that it results in confusion. It is critical for the plan to be linear with its roles, responsibilities and processes.
An additional mistake is when the digital plan is not regularly updated to reflect changes to the company’s overall crisis communications manual or philosophies. As a result, the digital plan could lose its effectiveness and communications with online audiences could be adversely impacted. Other common issues include not identifying and training backup staff in the event primary team members are unavailable and not accounting for overnight staffing. Once companies have the right team in place, it is a big mistake not to test the effectiveness of the plan with unannounced drills and tabletop exercises to ensure the assigned staff can work seamlessly and overcome challenges.
If highly-coordinated and regularly tested, a digital crisis plan can prevent additional issues and confusion when responding during a crisis. Without it, companies are running the risk of diminished credibility with stakeholders and long-term reputational issues that could take years to resolve. It’s better to prepare now, before it is too late.