The Speed of Crisis in the Digital Age: Creating a Modern Crisis-Preparedness Plan

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In this age of connectivity and the always-on digital world, reputation has never been more vulnerable. In a matter of 15 minutes or fewer, a company can go from riding high to an all-time low. Today, speed, agility and a solid plan in response to an incident or crisis are everything.

A crisis doesn’t slow down for weeknights, weekends or holidays. In fact, those are the times when a crisis is most likely to happen. A crisis can occur anytime, anywhere and you must be able to effectively engage at a moment’s notice.

We no longer have the luxury of rushing to power on our laptops or worse, finding and dusting off the old binder that has the printed protocol. Leaders and communicators must be prepared to react in this 24/7 world on a dime to decrease the negative impact and help diminish the situation faster.

So, how should communicators be preparing to effectively and efficiently address a crisis in today’s digital age?

Gather the right team. Create an incident response team that is made up of individuals with the right expertise and experience. The team isn’t always, nor should it be, made up of the most senior executives in an organization. It should comprise a group of individuals who can be collaborative and solution-oriented, and have the ability to connect wherever, whenever.

The key is to make sure each person has a clear understanding of his/her role and responsibilities so that when it’s go time, everyone will know exactly what to do.

Don’t just have a plan, have a great one. The crisis plans of old included a phone tree, a few draft statements or press releases and step-by-step procedures. Today, a comprehensive crisis plan should have all of these plus company policies, best practices, sample scenarios and arguably most important, draft social media copy.

During the first 12 hours of an incident today, social channels will drive everything. Therefore, the incident response plan needs to be social-centric. Having the ability and will to use all of a company’s social channels will result in a team being able to drive the narrative through a crisis.

Access the right tools. Members of a response team should never be chained to their desks in anticipation of a crisis. What makes a modern-day incident response team is its ability to access the right tools and materials anywhere at any time. Seek out platforms like a mobile app or a protected hub where all incident response team members have access to prepared communication materials in one place, whether they are on their mobile device or in the office.

It is also important to make sure all team members are trained and have access to monitoring tools that can be accessed quickly to provide insights and data to help inform a crisis response.

By being prepared to move quickly and effectively, a crisis response team is able to control the narrative around an incident, and the story being told is the one that the team wants to tell. If it has been awhile since your incident response team has done any of the above, now is the time to revamp your team, protocols and materials to ensure you are prepared for when a true crisis hits.

Kevin Elliott is a managing director at Hill+Knowlton Strategies and heads its U.S. risk and crisis communication practice.