Build a Crisis Management Plan for Your Business in Seven Steps

Michael Seymour |
 06/20/22 |
5 min read

Build a Crisis Management Plan for Your Business in Seven Steps

Crisis management sounds intuitive when one is not in the midst of a crisis. This is why developing a crisis management plan ahead of time, and ensuring everyone knows about it is key. And we’re going to help you do exactly that! And here’s why you need to drop everything and focus on this right now:

When a crisis hits and you’re unprepared, it’s incredibly difficult to pull things together in the moment. We’ll explore what crisis management is, how it works, and ways to stop a bad situation from getting worse, including tips for identifying crises before they happen.

  • A crisis is usually comprised of three elements: an organizational threat, the element of surprise and a short decision-making window. Brands need immediate insight to respond quickly and correctly.
  • PwC Global Crisis Surveyfound that 69% of respondents had experienced a crisis within the preceding five years, while 95% expected to be hit by one in the future. Poll your internal team to see if those stats align!

So now that we have a bit of context, let’s dig into what it is, how it works and help you to create a plan of your own!

how brands can avoid a PR crisis

What is Crisis Management?

Response is the key to weathering a crisis – and that response is crisis management. It’s really how you manage the crisis and respond to it. And this response can make or break customer relationships, so it’s important to get it right!

The speed of your response can determine how much damage is done to the brand, and this is why brands benefit from real-time insight on emerging situations. Because, in a perfect world, brands want to stop a crisis before it gets a chance to pick up steam – and this is precisely what the best crisis management plans offer.

How does a Crisis Management Plan Work?

Much like firefighters responding to a burning building, a crisis management plan works to extinguish flames as quickly as possible. There are targeted activities for each member of the team to execute rapidly, trusting that other teammates are fighting the flames with equal commitment, following the predetermined and practiced plan of attack.

It falls apart when Jane climbs a ladder, aims the hose at the window, and no water comes out, as Fred forgot to attach the other end to the hydrant, distracted by the commotion.

Fortunately for Jane, her crisis management plan relies on next generation AI capabilities, and her company has democratized insight – so there are multiple people on her team watching and able to assist, as needed. And the building isn’t burning down either. The brand name could be though – so it’s important to have a detailed understanding of crisis management priorities and a chain of command in place that determines what and how to message out.

Creating a Crisis Management Plan for Your Business

1. Choose a social listening tool to use.

The most pivotal step is choosing the social listening tool to use, as everything else will flow from this choice. You’ll want one that captures consumer and media intelligence, as the news can kick off and/or amplify a crisis.

2. Perform a SWOT analysis.

Time to identify your company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This insight will form the baseline for future efforts, so it’s important to get it right. Assumptions are dangerous here as they’ll skew your understanding of your category, your market position and of your consumers. As such, you’ll want to examine online conversation about your brand and the larger category, as well as what your consumers are saying about all of it. From this, you should be able to extract a pretty robust and illuminating analysis.

3. Identify category influencers, including detractors.

You’ll want to know those who love and hate your brand, as each brings a different sort of intel and opportunity to your operation. When a crisis strikes, you’ll want to have an established relationship with – or at least a good understanding of – influencers that love your brand. And also, of those who could cause problems for your brand.


Monitoring detractor conversation will help you stay ahead of any trouble they stir up, and you can then activate your influencer team to get ahead of the narrative and redirect it with targeted messaging. More on that below.

4. & 5. Set benchmarks to gauge brand exposure.

Understanding your “normal” is key to assessing your “now.” Your social listening tool can offer a level of prior public insight, but tracking your brand’s owned and partner properties requires ongoing monitoring for historical access. With it, you can set alerts to keep you apprised of any deviation from the norm, gauge the magnitude of the issue and breakdown conversations – wherever they’re happening – to develop an appropriate response.

The context of the crisis is crucial, as is knowing where it’s happening and who or what is behind it. Without accurate intel here, a brand cannot go back to the source and put out the flame. This allows it to burn beneath the surface and potentially reignite – and that second flare up is typically worse than the initial incident, as it has generated awareness and is more likely to attract attention from a larger crowd.

Once this is all understand, a response that addresses the issues and acknowledges prevailing sentiment can be messaged out to quell the masses. Understanding how previous messaging was received in similar circumstances is helpful here, as is monitoring current sentiment before, during and after this incident response – to inform future crises.


6. Democratize social listening.

As mentioned earlier, everyone on your team should have a better than basic understanding of how to monitor your brand’s presence online. This is particularly important in light of COVID, where having one person hold the keys to your online kingdom could prove fatal if illness strikes.

7. Share your crisis management plan company wide.

Ensure everyone on your team, and within your organization understands who to contact and how to respond to a crisis – and that messaging should not happen ahead of insight. The assumed origin or ongoing sentiment associated with a crisis that’s winding up must be rapidly and thoroughly evaluated before any decisions are made.

A crisis can change course as quickly as the wind if a particular group, influencer or current event feeds it in some unexpected fashion. Brand ambassadors, influencers and even detractors can offer relevant context, but relying on any piece of the puzzle by itself can prove a careless misstep.

For example, NFTs are all the rage with brands right now, but there’s a solid – and growing – contingent online decrying its environmental impact. Would NFT influencers share this insight with you? Even if they don’t, your sentiment analysis would pick up an anomaly and potentially save your brand from alienating its Gen Z base and spending many tens of thousands of dollars to win them back. It’s just one example of many to have in mind.

Stopping a crisis from spreading isn’t easy, but it’s far from impossible when you’re proactive about it. And as we’ve seen – getting ahead of these crises is the most important step you can take. Reach out for a demo and we’ll show you how to master step 1 in a way that you’ll rarely need

how brands can avoid a PR crisis

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