Toolkit for Crisis Management in the age of Social Media

19 Jul,2017


The Indestructible Brand – Crisis Management in the Age of Social Media by Venke Sharma and Hushidar Kharas is scheduled to be released today (July 19) in Mumbai. Here we publish an extract from the book with permission from the publishers, Sage Response


By Venke Sharma and Hushidar Kharas


Venke Sharma

Hushidar Kharas

So the crisis squad has been created, and the CCO knows who to call when things go awry. The next step is to huddle and put together the crisis playbook, a concise yet comprehensive list of steps to be taken when a crisis hits. This is ideally done via a workshop where the stakeholders can disconnect from the day-to-day activity and focus on the task at hand. It is important that all stakeholders are open about the risks that arise in their piece of the business and are not defensive. There’s no place for turf wars in the crisis squad, and “this is my problem and I will handle it” is not an acceptable approach.

It’s up to the CCO to drive the spirit of cooperation, perhaps through a series of teamwork exercises at the start of the session or by role plays that encourage people to think in detail about functions they are otherwise unfamiliar with. Getting an external facilitator for the session is also an option, as it allows reps to talk to a neutral body that sees issues from everyone’s perspective.


Possible exercises to get everyone thinking collaboratively are as follows:

1. Ask an R&D person to visualise managing the HR aspect of a crisis.

2. Ask a PR person to identify places in the production, packaging, and distribution processes where a crisis may occur.

3. Play a game where half the squad represents the environment (consumers, competition, partners, and government) and tries to cause crises for the brand,

while the other half manages the fort and defends the brands reputation against the assault. The CCO or external facilitator can extend the game until the

first team runs out of ideas or call an end when one team is clearly dominating.


We have divided the playbook process into three steps:

# Scenario Building: Identifying scenarios from which a crisis can arise for your brand.

# Establishing Benchmarks: Setting up qualitative and quantitative benchmarks that differentiate between an issue and crisis and trigger subsequent predefined


# The Playbook: A detailed set of instructions and resources for the crisis squad (and for all employees) to be used once the benchmarks have been reached.


Scenario Building

The first step toward creating a crisis playbook is scenario building. Think of everything that can go wrong for your brand/organisation. Evaluate issues and crises that may have happened in the past to your organization or competition,or in your business environment. Run through every aspect of your value chain step by step, identifying vulnerabilities. It’s important to think like a consumer—make a list of the known negatives and the keywords that consumers tend to

use while talking about them. Use the grid below, but feel free to fill in examples that are more relevant to your category.


Establishing Benchmarks

The next step is to set qualitative and quantitative benchmarks to distinguish between a consumer issue and a fullblown crisis. A degree of judgment will need to be exercised as well, but having numerical benchmarks makes it a loteasier to filter and avoid false alarms. These will vary drastically for different types of crises, for example, 1 negative mention about a product hygiene issue(spitting in a pizza) is enough to go into crisis mode, but it may take 50 or 100 mentions/hour of a known negative (network outage for a telecom or flight delays for an airline) to initiate action. Benchmarks need to be time-bound; velocity isa key component of a social crisis; things that pick up speed quickly are likely to blow out of proportion. It’s also important to see where the mentions are coming from. Identify key influencers in your category (celebrity food bloggers),consumer forums, and major news services and create a dashboard dedicated to them. It is possible to take this a step further and set up successive triggers for a worsening crisis. Each new level of negativity can spur a predefined action such as hiring an ambassador or launching a campaign.


Building the Playbook

So, now you have a clear idea of the various things that can go wrong. What next? How does this help you when a crisis hits? Follow the steps below to put together your crisis playbook. Feel free to add more information that you feel is relevant to your organization or industry, but avoid removing any of the elements shared below:

• Log the names, email addresses, and phone numbers for each of the members of the crisis squad and a backup for each of them in case they’re unavailable.

• Add similar contact details for each of the digital/ advertising/PR/CRM agencies.

• Add contact details for the person/people with access to the brands social and digital assets (Facebook page, Twitter handle, LinkedIn profile, and website).

# Identify the right organizational spokesperson for each kind of crisis (Owner: CCO)

• Ideally, you should have not more than three spokespersons, possibly the CEO, chief financial officer (CFO), and chief operating officer (COO).Include contact details for each of them and a backup.

• Conduct media training for each of them; focus on body language, dress code, and choice of vocabulary.

• Create a code of conduct for these and other highly visible employees. During a crisis, especially one that impacts consumers or small traders, senior employees should not be seen having fun or displaying conspicuous wealth. Such actions are picked up as signs of arrogance or not caring. Most employees will have personal profiles and handles and may notice negative mentions about the organization. Their first instinct will be to get into the conversation and defend the company, but that’s rarely a good idea. Employees should not be used as mouthpieces during times of crises. At most, if they are directly tagged with questions, they can refer the tagger to the official statement released by the company spokesperson. All official responses should only be issued from the brand handle. It is important to remember that social media conversations are glaringly public and can be used in different contexts for or against the organisation.There is, however, an extremely important function that employees can perform to mitigate or assist during a crisis.

Employees will sometimes pick up a negative mention that escapes your social listening practice, either due to privacy restrictions (Facebook) or incomplete query building. They should highlight these at once to the HR representative on the crisis squad. If they don’t get a response in two hours, they should escalate to the CCO. It is important that every employee knows that he/she should never hide an issue from leadership; it will eventually explode. Escalate, ring the alarm bells early, and get everyone into war mode as soon as possible.


Reprinted with permission the publisher from

The Indestructible Brand

Crisis Management in the Age of Social Media

By Venke Sharma and Hushidar Kharas

Publisher: Sage Response

Paperback, 172 pages

Cover price: Rs 295


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