Top 10 Crisis Communication Mistakes to Avoid

Paul Barton Crisis Communications

By Paul Barton, ABC

When you’re out of time, under pressure and the stakes are high, it’s easy to make mistakes. When you’re representing a company, those mistakes can be costly — stock prices can tumble, sales can fall, and brand reputations can be ruined beyond repair.

But when a crisis is handled well, an organization can actually put itself in a position to boost its long-term financial success and enhance its brand reputation.

The following are what I believe to be the top crisis communication mistakes to avoid.

(1) Waiting too long: Some business leaders think they need to wait to get all the facts before they say anything to the news media, on social media, and to their customers, and to their employees. You should get out in front of a crisis right away to establish your company as the most credible information source. It’s OK to say, “We are still collecting all the facts, but we are aware of this incident and we are making sure that all of our employees and customers are safe and sound. We promise to keep you updated as soon as we have all the facts. Here is what we do know.”

(2) Not having an up-to-date crisis plan: Not having an up-to-date crisis communication plan is like reaching for a flashlight when the lights go out and discovering the batteries are dead. It wastes time and money. Make sure your plan is fully charged and ready to go when you need it the most.

(3) Forgetting your own employees: Some organizations are so focused on getting statements to the news media and other external audiences that they forget about their own employees. This is a big mistake because it is quite often the employees who determine how fast and how fully an organization will recover from a crisis. And, of course, it is employees who are the face of the organization to the customers. Employees can be great and credible advocates for the organization if they have the right information.

(4) Telling Employees one thing and the public another: Be consistent in your messaging. Don’t tell external audiences one thing and employees another. It’s never been a good idea to have misaligned messages and in the Digital Age, it can cause severe damage to your brand.

(5) Forgetting to Care First: In the rush to get facts out, some organizations forget the importance of addressing the emotional side of a crisis. Until people know that you care, they don’t care what you know. In addition, if you don’t appeal to their hearts, they’ll find a group who will and that often turns out to be naysayers, activities, and critiques of the company. You need to establish that you care early on with a statement such as, “Our immediate concern is for the safety and well-being of our employees and our customers. Our hearts go out to the victims.”

(6) Weak Apologies: If your company has done wrong, have the CEO issue a sincere and full apology publicly right away. The apology should be free of watered-down words. Failure to do so often results in the company having to apologize multiple times.

(7) Failure to Practice: Drill baby, drill! Many organizations have a plan but they don’t conduct regular drills. Phone numbers and contacts become out of date, pre-gathered supplies get lost, and key players don’t know where to go and what to do. A failure to prepare can turn a crisis into a catastrophe.

(8) Not Having a Social Media Response Plan: This is the Digital Age and corporate responses to a crisis must move at the speed of social media. If your crisis communication plan doesn’t include a social media response plan, you’re a disaster waiting to happen. 

(9) Failure to Build Social Media Relationships: Many organizations fail to build strong relationships on social media channels ahead of a crisis. Having these relationships when you need them the most can help avoid a rumor turning into a viral nightmare overnight. Establish solid relationships on social media on an ongoing basis. You want to build the ark before the flood.

(10) Predict and Prepare: Crises aren’t random. They can be predicted and you can prepare for them. Look at what’s going on in the news, with your competitor, in your industry and with similar-sized companies. Look at the history of your company and your competitors. From that, determine the most likely crisis scenarios your company could face and then prepare for those.

I’ll elaborate on the individual items listed here in the coming weeks. In the meantime, which of these have you seen all too often? What pitfalls would you add to this list? Let us know what you think.


Podcast: Taking the Crisis Out of Crisis Communication

Webinar Replay: Internal Communication in Times of Crisis

The Crisis Communication Toolkit

Crisis Communication Workshop: Be Your Best When Facing the Worst

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