It can happen to anyone. One day you are happily providing tasty prepared meals to devoted consumers, and the next you are accused of serving up horsemeat, committing fraud and conspiracy against the public, and somehow being linked to convicted arms traffickers via the intermediaries that transport meat through the seedy underworld of the European food chain!

Who knew that a humble lasagne could cause so much trouble for so many goliaths of the food industry?

The answer is that someone should have. Because in today’s world of instant global exposure the vast majority of your digital crisis management needs to be in place before a crisis occurs, scenarios practised, scripts written, influencers on-side and communication channels identified.

It should be someone’s role to ensure that this has been done. In the wake of the horsemeat crisis, how many of the businesses involved in it do you feel had an effective strategy to call upon?

In the days before social media it could take hours or even days for a story to break. Today it can take seconds to go viral, so it’s prepare or perish.

Here is our five step guide to digital crisis management:

1.   Listen 

Where there are early warning signals of an impending crisis you want to know about them. To remain constantly aware of what people are saying about your brand, your business and your products and services your organisation should be producing and reviewing social media monitoring reports on a regular basis.

This should be weekly, but moving up to hourly during a crisis because timely and accurate knowledge is essential for rapid resolution. 

2.  Nurture

A swift and decisive response is often required when it comes to successful digital crisis management and for this to be achieved you will often need the support of key influencers in your market.

Know where they can be found, profile them to understand who they are and what they like, how they will speak of you and how much support you can rely on from them.

Nurture your relationships with them constantly because you never know when you will have to call upon their help, their voice and their influence in your market. 

3. Plan

You backup your system files, not because you expect them to crash but to avoid catastrophe if they do, and in the same way you should plan every detail of your digital crisis management.

This means fully trained staff whose responsibility it is to switch over to their crisis-management role and monitor, engage, respond and protect the reputation of your organisation; a step-by-step crisis management manual for them to refer to; emergency contact numbers and email addresses for key senior staff to be immediately made aware of an impending crisis; and keyword analysis to determine potential phrases which you will need to dominate should a crisis occur.

Your response times, and the actions you take, may mean the difference between a crisis averted and a full-blown horsemeat scandal. 

4. Prepare

The bigger your business gets the more of a target it can become – disgruntled customers or employees, those who dislike your products, services or ideologies, and those who simply are spoiling for a fight.

To defend against this you need to cast a wide net over the social mediasphere, gaining strong footholds in every relevant platform and medium. Not only will this mean that you have a good foundation, but that more people will directly hear from you and be warmer to your reaction in response to a crisis. 

5. React 

Respond quickly: let all key stakeholders know instantly that there is an issue, engage with key influencers to gather more crisis knowledge and to be the voice of reason in their circles, monitor all social channels and protect your brand by buying up all relevant keywords for SEO and PPC to prevent others using them and so you can utilise them for maximum crisis management message impact. 

Effective online reputation management and crisis response requires diligence and up-to-the-minute knowledge of social media trends and technologies. It is frightening how few organisations have a social crisis management action plan in place, but by following these few steps you will better protect your reputation, your brand and your business.

So don’t delay, put your crisis management action plan in place today.