Levels of a Crisis: Who Knows What?

By Jamie Hooker

Not all crises are created equally! We’re breaking down types of crises into three levels based on who knows what, and are giving direction on how to handle each. You’re welcome.

Company knows, public doesn’t

Many times the company knows about a crisis and the public does not. You could argue this is the ideal crisis situation (besides not having a crisis in the first place, of course!). When the public is unaware of the crisis, this gives the company the opportunity to develop a proactive crisis plan and to control the message if they decide to make it public (or if it eventually becomes public without the company’s consent). If the crisis can be solved behind closed doors and the public is not in danger in any way, it is not always in the best interest of the company to announce (example: bookkeeping errors for a privately-held company).

One-on-one consumer complaint

THIS JUST IN! Consumer complaints usually begin through social media; the days of voicing a complaint by letter or phone call are over. Luckily you’re a PR genius, and your company has someone on duty listening for brand mentions on social media. One-off complaints tend to be easy to handle, but can quickly gain traction depending on the type of complaint. We’ve discussed in our crisis series that having messages or talking points at the ready is ideal, and social media is no different. It’s to your advantage to direct the customer to a less-public and offline communication such as a customer service phone number, email or private message on social channels. Be sure the consumer receives an apology/explanation for any inconveniences they’re experiencing. Use their first name (if it’s available) to personalize your message. Small touches and quick responses to irritated customers can go a long way. If a complaint snowballs on social media, the crisis could be characterized by the level below…

Company and public know similar information

If this is the case, the company and its PR firm are most likely in full crisis mode, and strategic messaging will be your best friend. The first crisis of this type that comes to mind is United Airlines’ overbooking incident where a man was dragged off the plane. Thanks to social media and smart phones, the public knew about the crisis very quickly, and many news outlets shared the crisis before United Airlines responded. In cases like this, it’s best to make a statement as soon as possible so the public not only sees you are aware of the crisis, but also has accurate information.

All three levels of crises should be handled differently, so the faster you’re able to characterize a crisis, the more organized you’ll be. Cheers to being prepared!