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5 Most Common Crisis Communications Scenarios

These days, nearly every company must have a social media presence to survive and thrive in this market. The prioritization of digital footprints comes at a high cost, though, as there are plenty of potential errors related to posting content, engaging with consumers, and even simply managing public relations (PR).

Fortunately, most of the potential pitfalls for PR and social media crises fall into similar categories, so it’s easier to predict and prepare for these issues. Here, we outline five of the most common reasons why a company might need to engage their crisis communications practices, plus information on how that could look.

Most common crisis communications scenarios and why business need to prepare for them

Often, PR crises are made up of news stories, posts, and other public communications that either misrepresent or negatively represent the company. This can include social media crisis points, fake content, news posts exposing workplace issues like violence and lack of diversity and security breaches.

Because each scenario poses its own threat level—and is solved in a specific way—it’s important to understand them individually. Let’s dive in.

Real-time social media crisis communications

There are two types of crises most common in social media: ones started because of an issue with a company’s social media posts and ones that arise by way of consumers taking to social media about a company and garnering traction on their own posts.

For example, a social media manager might have tried to post something humorous that ended up being offensive—like these examples from brands like Tampax and Burger King—which forces the company to engage a communications strategy to clean up from the mistake.

Or, consumers might post a negative story about the company—like travelers tweeting about Southwest Airlines in December 2022—that makes for a viral moment, damaging brand image and  consumer trust.

In both cases, a good social media monitoring strategy will allow you to be alerted to the problem before it gets too out of hand. With the right alerts set up from a dedicated social analytics tool, you can track company mentions and be alerted to public sentiment as it changes—for better or worse.

After being alerted to the problem and understanding public sentiment, it’s important to address the issues head-on with a well-written company statement that promises to correct the error and not have future missteps. The longer you wait to address these problems, the more public trust and confidence you’ll lose. The statement should be approved by—and signed by—higher-ups, so it’s important that you’re in regular communication with executives.

Sometimes—particularly when a company’s social media team posted an offensive piece of content—the company should step away from social media altogether once the formal apology has been issued. In this case, it’s helpful to reallocate marketing efforts to move on from the mistake and rebuild trust in the company.

Spread of fake content

With the rise in AI, fake content and news are increasing across the internet at an alarmingly rapid rate. Audiences have trouble distinguishing between AI-generated photos and videos and real-life footage, the same way they struggle to differentiate between truthful news stories and false reporting.

This poses a threat to businesses, who need to regularly be on the lookout for negative, fake news stories about their companies to rectify. Deepfakes, for instance, could be used to create videos that portray products in a false and negative way, like claiming that a car malfunctions when the scenario was simply made by an AI software and looks realistic.

Once you’re alerted to the fake news or misleading content from your media monitoring tools, it’s important to act immediately by releasing a correction and pursuing legal action against those lying about the product or business. This might even need to escalate into the creation of real videos that demonstrate the difference between reality and the deepfake.

Stories of workplace violence

Crisis communications often come as a response to viral, negative stories said by consumers, but sometimes former employees can be part of the conversation as well. When people who worked at the company publicly discuss their negative experiences—especially if those stories contain workplace violence or discrimination—it can cause major problems for the business.

You should regularly monitor your brand’s mentions in both news and social media be aware of what’s being said, especially if you are worried about this type of coverage. If and when it does occur, it’s again vital to address this head-on with a public apology and pledge to put an end to any illegal or offensive workplace violations.

If a specific story has gained a great amount of attention, it could be beneficial to publicly detail the ways that you have addressed that issue so that consumers know it’s being taken seriously. For instance, a company might release a statement saying that the offending employee has been fired and that they’ve instated business-wide anti-violence trainings. This helps regain public trust and allows you to take back control of the narrative.

Lack of diversity and inclusion

While workplace violations are a massive concern for public image, another major area that could present issues is lack of transparency or false positioning around diversity and inclusion.

This kind of crisis was especially visible in the summer of 2020, when brands were vocalizing their support for Black Lives Matter despite having very few employees of color. The public callouts around lack of diversity for these companies were met with promises to change, which were sometimes empty and not fulfilled.

If your diversity and inclusion practices are brought into the spotlight, it’s important to shed light on the ways in which that will shift over the coming weeks and months, perhaps by way of a public statement from those working within the DEI department. You can coordinate this kind of press release, and if that’s not possible, they can communicate with higher-up officials to underscore the importance of rectifying the lack of diversity.

Cybersecurity breach

Security is central to a business’s strategy, and many industries need robust cybersecurity measures to ensure client protection. So, if you have a breach, you’re looking at another crisis you need to address right away.

When there is any type of security breach, a you should immediately reach out directly to those who may have been impacted by it. If, for instance, consumer passwords and addresses were accessed by an unauthenticated third party, all consumers whose information was listed should receive urgent emails or messages so that they can change passwords and be cautious to additional threats.

While these crises are avoidable through regular phishing trainings and proper cybersecurity protocol, you should still be prepared to respond to the occasional incident. Once the consumers themselves have been notified, it’s important that you publicly state how you will ensure that this issue does not happen again to rebuild trust with the public. This can happen through press releases, social media posts, or public appearances from leaders who can get the word out and issue an apology.

Crisis communication plans for every situation

Your likelihood of facing one of these crises depends on your sector, but it’s crucial to have a plan in place regardless.

As stated throughout this blog post, immediate action is critical to regrow confidence in the company, so having a blueprint of the apology and statement process can help to make the response quick and effective.

Aside from the increase in speed, it’s also helpful to have a plan so that the entire PR and social media team is aware of how to go about crisis communication to avoid further missteps. For instance, companies that choose to shut down their social media amid public callouts should alert social media managers when to stop posting and/or replying to comments. This will help stem damage and hopefully rebuild your brand’s image.

Leverage research to prepare for a public relations crisis

The best way for a company to be prepared for an unpredictable PR crisis is to regularly monitor their brand’s name across the internet. That means paying attention to social media, mainstream media, and all other mentions of the brand across a myriad of sites—a feat that’s hard to do manually.

The right media intelligence tools can help to automate that media monitoring so PR teams can get regular reports and timely alerts any time their company is mentioned, meaning they are consistently up to date on public reception. This way, you’ll never miss an alert and be able to address a crisis in a timely manner—or get ahead of it in the first place.

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