You can’t control public outcry, as Crock-Pot learned from last week’s “This Is Us” storyline. No spoilers, but an unfortunate product placement in the TV drama spawned a storm of misplaced rage against the slow-cooker giant. In response, Crock-Pot created its first Twitter account and took to digital channels to address a sea of shaken viewers.
As health systems, negative PR (as well as the positive) is a given. Our crises can have deep, national implications and can cover a range of concerning events:
- Inappropriate employee behavior, such as infecting patients with unsterile needles
- Malpractice and medical accidents, especially those in the public eye
- Shootings or other violence on campus
- Environmental disasters, such as hurricanes, blizzards, or tornados
- Employee strikes
- Disease outbreaks
Though we can’t control public response to negative PR, we can clarify the situation and mitigate much of its effects. The key is to create and be ready to implement a proactive, digital-first crisis communication strategy. Having effective tools in place allows you to focus on the message, not the delivery method.
Digital crisis communication checklist essentials
Your crisis technical checklist should include:
1) Social alert notifications and someone to respond to them.
Google alerts is a free tool that allows you to receive notifications when a key phrase or name is mentioned online. We also recommend assigning emergency social media staffing as many hours of the day as are available to ensure that all individuals with questions, fears, or complaints regarding the crisis topic are acknowledged and addressed, if appropriate.
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If you set up an alert for your organization’s name or the name of a physician or leader under scrutiny, be sure to include alerts for name variations as well to ensure you’re getting as complete a story as possible. For example, if your CEO is John A. Smith, consider variations such as Jon Smith, Jonathan Smithe, etc.
2) Website-wide messaging
On average, only 8 to 11 percent of people who visit hospital websites actually see the homepage. If your crisis strategy focuses just on changing out the homepage banner image or using a promotion box on that page, you likely will miss the majority of your audience. Make sure your site has an alert feature that can be implemented site-wide or to a specific section of the site depending on your message. Mobile display also is incredibly important, so remember to include it in your plan.
3) Define your crisis messaging approval process ahead of time
A multistep approval process might not be efficient when you need to react quickly. Create standard text that is preapproved for likely events, such as flu outbreaks or locally-relevant environmental disasters.
Tragic or sensitive situations require more careful messaging, and timely message approval is vital to get the information out quickly to the public. Before a crisis strikes, create and agree upon a streamlined messaging approval system with as few stakeholders as is necessary. And remember, messaging can be revised and reposted as situations progress – that’s the beauty of digital communication.
4) Prioritize tone
Digital messaging does not provide the benefit of in-person conversation, so make sure your organizational tone is professional and not defensive. Try following a tone exercise we use when developing difficult messaging: Think about the ideal person to talk to a family in crisis and imagine that person is narrating the story. That’s the feeling users should experience as they read, watch, or listen to your content.
5) Digital content is not just written words
Podcasts and videos are valuable content that can help reflect your personality and provide on-the-scene coverage of events as appropriate. When crises strike, it’s sometimes easier to listen or watch than to read content, and these media are an opportunity to reach more people with swift, appropriate messaging.
We all hope for the best in crisis situations. While you can’t always control the outcry, you can respond quickly and look for opportunities to build positive support for your brand in how you handle the messaging.