For business owners, your image is a commodity. Public perception of your brand and business is currency. Anytime that image is threatened, your brand is tarnished, and stakeholders inside and outside the organization might lose faith as a result. That's a crisis.
A crisis could be something internal, like an ethical violation, an HR infraction, or even a leadership dispute or unexpected resignation. It could also be something external, such as a product being recalled or classified as a safety hazard. Whether big or small, anything that impacts your stakeholders' views of your business in a negative fashion can be considered a crisis.
The challenge, of course, is how to respond when a crisis hits. The inherently chaotic nature of a business crisis can make doing the right thing a challenge. Small businesses can be particularly vulnerable to the trouble and turmoil of a crisis, as they frequently don't have a formal crisis management plan in place.
With that in mind, here are a few basic crisis management tips that all small business owners and professionals should be aware of.
No matter what kind of crisis you are facing, you want to focus on a narrative of renewal. Talk about how you will get better as an organization — how you will improve and move forward. Focus on the lessons learned, your commitment to change, and express a clear vision for the future.
Don't point fingers
Avoid the blame game. It's human nature to want to point fingers and find fault, but blame is a caustic, and perhaps even toxic, exercise in missing the point. Not only will it fail to solve your problem, it could even backfire publicly. A forward-facing, solution-oriented response mechanism, on the other hand, can help generate goodwill — both inside and outside the firm.
When it comes to the specific details of your crisis communication strategy, including media involvement, social media messaging, and knowing when to proactively reach out and utilize different platforms (and when to stay silent), talk to PR professionals with crisis management experience, and follow the guidance of experienced legal counsel at all times.
Social media is both a liability and an asset; a chore and a tool. It has the capacity to inflame, but also inform. Social media is more than just a messaging platform, it's your way of understanding a crisis by letting you know how your stakeholders are feeling and what they are saying. It helps you keep your finger on the pulse and gauge public sentiment. And for small business owners, it can be a critical tool — a way you can control and communicate a message quickly, clearly, and cost-effectively directly to your stakeholders. Social media, if used correctly, has a way of humanizing an organization. And it has the added advantage of being something where ambassadors, clients, partners, and others can add volume and credibility to your message.
Be strategically transparent
Clarity and visibility are important, but too much of a good thing isn't a good idea. Be particularly careful of regulations, legalities and privacy issues, especially when health and safety are involved. Ultimately, whether the crisis is big or small, a common mistake is to try and wall if off by insulating things internally. But by doing so, you leave one hand tied behind your back, failing to use your ambassadors in a way that could help the organization. And while it's not always appropriate to enlist everyone, a certain degree of transparency is important both internally as well as externally.
Walsh College hosts a complimentary speaker series, Conversation with Leaders, designed for all business professionals who want to network and discuss contemporary, real-life business issues. Topics have ranged from talent and career development to working with veterans in the workplace. On March 2, Lindsey Levich, senior account executive at Google, will discuss data collection and how businesses are using information to get the right message to the right person at the right time. Learn more at https://www.walshcollege.edu/success-center.
By Jenny Tatsak, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Business Communications, Walsh College
Originally posted on Walsh College
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