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Preparing For a Crisis

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Being able to respond effectively to a crisis is very important. However, it’s even more important to be prepared for a crisis. In fact, this is a crucial part of the crisis management process. The better your preparation, the better you’ll be able to respond when a crisis actually happens.

What is a crisis?

But what is a crisis actually? Before you can plan for one, you need to have a clear definition of what constitutes a crisis. Not every customer complaint is a crisis, after all. You need to be able to distinguish between a Twitter rant and a genuine risk to your brand reputation. And think about different levels of crisis. Categorize crises based on conceivable or likely worst-case scenarios.

Every business and industry faces different crises. Pharmaceutical companies worry about different risks than, say, video games publishers do. But both have a good idea of what the worst ones could be. And they should be able to plot out what they would do in the event of each.

Policies and procedures

To execute effective crisis management, a company must have a number of procedures and policies already in place. Then people will know how to act in a crisis situation.

Social medial policy

Because of social media, a brand crisis can quickly spiral out of control. So it’s crucial that a company has a detailed social media policy. Remember, as in the case of HMV, some crises start with an employee’s misuse of the company’s social media accounts. This can be accidental, such as inadvertently posting the wrong information on a social media account. Or it could be malicious, where employees use social media platforms to air their grievances. So you can see why it’s important to have a robust policy which defines who has access to social media accounts, at what level, and exactly how the company uses social media. These guidelines will make a social media crisis less likely.

Such a policy should first of all define copyright guidelines. Companies can find themselves in trouble if they share copyright material without proper permission or source recognition. Pay particular attention to copyright of photos and images. Your company should define how it uses and curates other people’s content.

The social media policy should also outline privacy guidelines. Employees need to know how to interact with customers and discuss their personal data. And then need to know when it’s more appropriate to take conversations offline to a private space.

Confidentiality guidelines

Make sure your employees are also aware of the company’s confidentiality guidelines. They must understand what company information is for public consumption and what must be kept confidential. The leaking of confidential information or trade secret can lead to a serious crisis for a company.

Brand guidelines

It’s very important for your company to have brand tone of voice guidelines. These outline how the brand ‘speaks’ to its customers. What language should you use? Is the tone formal or casual? How should you talk about specific products and brand terms? Aim to cover all aspects of customer interaction. For example, how should staff address customers? How should they sign off communications? What information do they need to include in email subject lines and footers? Staff also need to be guided on how to deal with praise, complaints, and questions from customers. This should go right down to the detailed level of the exact structure of a response message.

Crisis response plan

Although you may have many detailed documents and guidelines, it’s important to also have a simple crisis response plan. It’s a one-page document defining the main broad categories of incident and personnel to be notified in the event of each, with full contact details. It also outlines initial response guidelines, if any.

Information storage guidelines

All of this information must be readily accessible by anyone who is in a capacity to act in any way. A shared drive, Dropbox folder or other cloud location makes sense for this. It’s crucial that staff are aware of the general principles, but also have access to the detail anytime, anywhere. People will not be able to remember every detail, but they need to know where they should go to get those details.

Access guidelines

Finally, let’s return to social media issues again. It’s crucial that admin access to social media accounts is limited to as few people as possible. And admins should be able to grant or revoke access to anyone at a moment’s notice. Passwords to these admin accounts or third-party management tools should be very complex and secure. This reduces the risk of unauthorized access to the accounts. These can be generated randomly using a password tool such as random.org. Or you could use Google Chrome’s suggested password feature.

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Bill Phillips and Will Francis

Bill Phillips is an International Facilitator, Trainer, and Team Coach.

  • Has successfully coached CEOs, board members, directors, executive teams, and team leaders in public and private companies, NGOs, and UN organizations in 15 countries across four continents
  • Is the creator of Future-basing®, a highly potent process for building strategy, vision, and cooperation
  • Inspires people to build excellent interpersonal relationships and achieve their goals

In this module, Bill is the instructor for the ‘Conflict Management’ lesson.


Will Francis is a Digital Marketing Consultant, Trainer, and Speaker.

  • Educates and consults for senior marketers at the world’s leading brands
  • Ran a successful digital ad agency in London for eight years
  • Editor of social network MySpace in the 00s
  • Regularly appears at conferences, in press, TV, and radio to share his experience and expertise
  • Previous clients include Samsung, Spotify, Marriott Hotels, Warner Music, Penguin Books, and Net A Porter

In this module, Will is the instructor for the ‘Crisis Management’ lesson.

The following pieces of content from the Digital Marketing Institute's Membership Library have been chosen to offer additional material that you might find interesting or insightful.

You can find more information and content like this on the Digital Marketing Institute's Membership Library

You will not be assessed on this content.


    Dealing With Conflicts and Crises
    Bill Phillips and Will Francis
    Skills Expert

    Every leader will be faced with conflicts between team members from time to time. Some leaders have to deal with major crises too, where the company’s reputation – and sometimes its very survival – may be at stake. This module can help you respond effectively in such situations.

    You will learn how to manage workplace conflicts effectively when they break out. You will discover techniques you can use to deal with the warring parties and defuse their anger, as well as helping them to resolve their issues and find common ground.

    You will also be introduced to the principles of crisis management. You will find out about the types of crises that typically affect organizations, and how you can prepare for them in advance. You will also learn how to handle crises in the short term, and the steps you can take to repair damage and rebuild trust with your customers in the long term.