7 ways to control your narrative during crisis

Social media crises very rarely happen by accident. Spontaneous instances of successful social media crisis management — are rarer still.

There are no shortcuts to success when managing a crisis; but there are simple things you can do now to positively influence the outcome.


1. Invest in establishing your digital footprint ahead of time, over the long game

It may seem obvious, but deciding to get on Twitter when your crisis is a trending topic on twitter, is probably not the wisest of decisions. Why? That ship has well and truly sailed. In fact, you offloaded yourself from that ship when you decided you didn’t want to be social in the places where your audience or customers dwell online.

Unless you particularly like swimming (and can swim pretty fast) chasing a ship that has already sailed is an inordinate misuse of your time, attention, resources and energy. During a crisis stick with the options you find yourself with and focus on managing them well.

If you want to give yourself more options — you need to invest in them well ahead of time. That means not only in ICT infrastructure and training personnel; but also in changing organisational mindsets to tackle the challenges of implementing organisational change.

What tools do you want in your social media crisis toolkit when a crisis occurs? Where is your audience online and are you already there?

These two questions form the basis of where a proactively developed crisis strategy should focus.

2. Produce quality over quantity content to optimise your SEO

Search engine optimisation (SEO) can leave a defining digital legacy around your crisis if you do not produce and disseminate quality content as part of your business as usual communications strategy. This means your organisation needs to have a strategic view of its communications and be savvy about the way they extract value from that investment.

Why quality over quantity?

  • Google and other search engines (including social search) rank content not only by popularity, but a range of indicators from the credibility of your URL to accessibility and the use of natural links.
  • Your audience will respond more favourably to content that solves their problems and which provides value. Conversely, they will loathe hard sales and spin tactics.
  • Outflank and outrank negativity online strategically. Your reputation will reflect the totality of your digital efforts over the long term, demonstrating longevity and building trust. You don’t want the first thing people find out about your organisation in a Google search to be your crisis, even years after the fact.

3. Plan. Prepare. Practice.

The plan is to have a plan, before you need a plan. Without a crisis communications plan, you can’t prepare for a crisis nor can you practise your responses.

The best way to establish proactive crisis planning is to build your organisation’s resilience and capabilities during business as usual. Make a list of all the tools you’d like at your disposal during a crisis and schedule in building those capabilities with your existing content or editorial calendar. Remember to include those stakeholders — such as your C-Suite — in your training programs to ensure they become both confident in their use of social media and advocates for your overall strategy.

4. Make regular investments in the content and news media cycle

Think of producing quality content pieces and newsworthy stories like making regular deposits of dollars into a savings bank account. If you are a diligent saver, your account should always remain in the positive even when an unexpected expense arises. If you haven’t been a diligent saver however, or have deposited cents instead of dollars, you’ll quickly find your savings aren’t of much use and you’re left with a shortfall.

Producing quality content is the dollars to your cents. The more contributions of worth you make to the internet, the better off you’ll be if your fortunes suddenly change and you find your organisation facing a crisis.

This is important to both SEO and organisational resilience, the latter more so because not every organisation and/or leader will survive a crisis. You can’t outflank or outrank crisis led SEO if you haven’t invested in the digital and news media domain over the long term.

5. When an issue arises, get ahead of expected news media interest

Don’t wait for journalists to start calling. Get your statement or video out early and head off interest to quickly take the newsworthiness out of the issue. Be proactive, be honest, get straight to the point and commit to a schedule to update your stakeholders on your crisis remediation progress — and stick to that schedule.

If you wait until the media are calling (if they call at all) you’ve already lost narrative dominance — journalists very rarely ask questions they don’t already know the answers to.

6. When a crisis breaks, communicate early and often

Be the first to publish your news by using social media as a crisis brand newsroom to really gain an influential foothold in defining your crisis narrative.Preference should be given to influential forms of communication — and that means video or even vox pops over written press releases.

Convey confidence and build audience trust by being as personable as you can, and investing in the news media cycle regularly during your crisis. Even when you have nothing of substance to say, the act of being available and checking in on schedule means you can avoid situations where fictitious stories develop in the absence of fact.

7. After a crisis, continue communicating

A crisis doesn’t end until your audience has moved on in their own time. Even if the source of your crisis has been resolved or the emergency is over, your audience will still need updates. This could include preventative measures to ensure another crisis doesn’t occur, a refocusing of your narrative on safety and welfare issues or even what lessons you learned and actions you will implement as part of your move into business as usual.

Timing your move back into business as usual should be audience led — your social media and web analytics will give you a good indication of audience feeling toward the crisis and overall sentiment. Use those data sources to inform your next move.

You don’t need to live through your own social media crisis to learn from the mistakes of others. Instead of being a spectator during the next #PRFail, get out your notebook and take notes: what worked, what didn’t and how could you apply those lessons to your own organisation.

Give yourself options and prepare to communicate early and often.