Your Organization’s Under Attack? Respond Fast! Wait…Don’t Respond

hate speech"Not every incident needs a response, but incidents that are ignored can lead to a bigger crisis."

This crisis management advice comes directly from Ernest DelBuono, senior strategist for strategic communications firm Levick. At its root is the kind of logic Captain Kirk used on murderous computers to make them self-destruct.

DelBuono's key insight goes to the heart of crisis management decisions: When do you leave well enough alone, and when do you engage?

In our personal and working lives, relationships get frayed; friends, colleagues, competitors and customers get angry at us. We have to decide when to just let things blow over, and when to reach out to the angry party. The same holds true for organizations. The only thing that's different for organizations, perhaps, is today's heightened political climate, unbridled anger online and the speed of news cycles. Leaving well enough alone has greater consequences, as does engaging with one's attackers online.

One thing's for sure: If you have no crisis plan in place you might as well flip a coin when deciding whether or not to engage with critics online. Sadly, having no crisis communications plan in place is shockingly common. Nearly half of communicators who participated in a 2016 PR News/Nasdaq Corporate Solutions survey said their organization either has no crisis communications plan or they weren't sure if they had one.

DelBuono says organizations with no plan will be at sea when they're attacked online. "Ideally, you’ve already established metrics and assessment criteria ahead of time to determine if the adversaries who are attacking you can influence your organizational goals," he says. "For example, if what’s being said—while it may be high volume—is nothing more than an opposition echo chamber then there may be no need to respond other than targeted communications to your key audiences."

And for those organizations without a crisis plan? "It makes the task that much more difficult, but the process remains the same," DelBuono says. "The whole reason for having those tools ahead of time is to reduce the amount of time you need to respond. This is why developing a comprehensive communications plan well in advance of any crisis is essential. In a crisis, time is compressed. You don’t have time to do all the things you would do in a normal communications campaign."

Your assessment tools will help you answer quickly the immediate question of whether the negative digital discussion has the potential to influence supporters such as investors, contributors and customers to abandon your brand or business model.

Brand abandonment—now there's a crisis.

—Steve Goldstein, editorial director, PR News @SGoldsteinAI