Crisis communications – the prequel

Step 1: Clearly identify your stakeholder groups.

This blog post isn’t about what to do should your organization be faced with an issue or a crisis. It is about what you can do today, proactively, even if there isn’t the slightest evidence that there might be a challenge in your future. (A word of warning: A small mistake by someone in your organization could get a lot of interest online and turn into a huge crisis. Don’t think a crisis would never happen to you. It can. And at some point, it likely will.)

Back to today’s post…

We are often asked to develop issues and crisis communications plans for clients. One of the components that we include focuses on what the organization is doing now, at this moment, when there isn’t a challenge looming on the horizon. We find that there are a lot of organizations that aren’t proactively building relationships with their stakeholder groups. Not only is that dangerous, but it’s bad business. (Marketing and sales information doesn’t count as relationship building material, just for the record. And from what I have seen on some Twitter and Facebook pages, there are organizations out there that don’t realize that.)

Using Groupon or promoting a product or service through advertising, direct marketing or other channels is fine, but if that is the only connection you have with your stakeholder group, then you aren’t building relationships—you are setting up transactions. Transactions don’t necessarily create loyalty, encourage your customers or clients to tell others about your organization, and they won’t come to your defence if you are facing an issue or crisis.

We have clients in diverse industry sectors. At first glance, some seem to have more sizzle than others; their stories are easy to identify. For others, it takes a bit of digging to see what would be of interest. However, in all the years that I have been a story chaser, both as a journalist for Maclean’s and as a communicator, I have not yet found one industry or organization that didn’t have a compelling story to tell to their stakeholder group. And that’s the thing to remember—the whole world doesn’t have to be engaged, just your stakeholder group.

The first step to proactively building relationships with your stakeholders is to clearly identify each of your stakeholder groups. Who are they? What is the relationship to your organization and to each other? What do they want to know about your organization? (Not what you want to tell them, but what do they want to know?) How do they want to learn about you? (Facebook, Twitter, your website, a blog, etc.) What traditional media do they read, watch or listen to? Spend some time really getting to know who your stakeholders are. You might be surprised at what you learn.

For our clients, we spend time understanding their stakeholders. Depending on the project, we often create stakeholder character profiles complete with visuals, personalities, likes and dislikes. It’s a creative exercise that gets us thinking about how we need to share information.

Stay tuned for my next blog post on how to identify your organization’s interesting and compelling story.

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