Preparation is time well spent in our social media age
Crises usually arise when you least expect them in a church or organization. And if you’re the leader, it’s your job to be prepared in advance. Just like we have fire safety drills and abuse prevention procedures, we can also have plans and practices in place for communications in case of a sudden death of a leader, moral failure of a staff member or even natural disaster.
In the age of social media and news spreading farther and faster than ever, here’s a few things you can do now to be prepared for what you hope you don’t ever need to do in your community.
• Choose your spokesperson(s)
The key is to build a document for your organization’s leadership to execute if ever needed, starting with identifying your spokesperson. It might be one person for a natural disaster and another for a financial crisis – usually not the senior leader. If you don’t have a communications lead role, decide who can fill that role in writing, on the phone and (if it comes to it) on camera for the media. Social media can’t be left to inexperienced staff in these cases as it often becomes the most public interactive voice of the organization.
• Write plans for various scenarios
You can prepare for crises at the board and senior team levels. Take a few weeks and chip away at different potential statements and decisions you want to have sorted out in advance for various imaginary scenarios. Write an approved frequently asked questions document about your statement of beliefs and your stance on contentious issues so the spokesperson can reply to an email or question with a copy and paste rather than spend a week to write it and get it approved. Do the homework now so it’s ready when you need it.
• Passwords must have multiple owners
To cope with the firing or death of an employee, ensure multiple people have the passwords to social media accounts, websites, databases and emails. Passwords should be stored securely where they can be accessed by others if needed. They must be changed immediately in cases such as the departure of a disgruntled employee.
• Media time flows differently
Give your social media manager authority to engage with online commenters. Don’t let questions and comments sit unanswered because of delay in leadership approval – that can sound uncaring, suspiciously avoidant, tone deaf or irrelevant. Things move quickly on the internet, especially if the news media are involved. You don’t have the luxury of spending three days to form a committee. The story will be published with your voice missing, and the public will draw conclusions based on your silence. What might your replies be to various crises or accusations? If you can act them out now, you can have them 80 per cent prepared in advance and tweak the details when a crisis hits. A swift crisis response can prevent the narrative going sideways. Preparation allows you to be transparent, candid and confident about what you can and can’t say. Explain yourself through an issue. Speak with integrity and love. Don’t act out of fear or frantic lack of preparation.
• News media relationships help a lot
Find a couple of professional bloggers and journalists in your area. (If you’re in a bigger organization, you could compile a nationwide list.) Build relationships on sunny days for rainy days. You can start by tagging them on social media or contacting them with the occasional story idea. Journalists aren’t lazy, but they are busy and need your help. Can you draft some quotes a key leader would say and have the leader just sign off on what you’ve written? Can you provide high-quality photos so they don’t have to use whatever they find on the internet?
If you’re leading through a crisis right now, please take care of yourself and remember why you started. God is with you in these strange times and can give the wisdom you need to do what He has called you to do. There are experienced communication experts who work with the Christian sector in Canada, so you don’t need to go it alone if you have questions about how to set up a crisis communications plan or communicate in a current situation.
Joanna la Fleur is a podcaster, TV host and communications consultant in Toronto. Find more of these columns at www.FaithToday.ca/ThrivingInDigital. Clipboard Illustration: Shutterstock.com