Chris St. Hilaire: Why you need a team that can quickly quell any crisis

Chris St. Hilaire, founder, president and CEO, Jury Impact and M4 Strategies

When Facebook bought Instagram for nearly $1 billion, the social networking site was all but admitting that a smartphone app was poised to decimate its user base. But Facebook knew what all businesses must accept: When it comes to communications, we are in hyper drive.

As quickly as Twitter captured the public’s attention, the next new thing could replace it. Facebook is intent on keeping pace. You should be too.

Businesses must select the apps, sites, social networks and other modes of communication that best reach their client base and then create messages that can pierce through the blizzard of other messages. At no time is this more important than when a crisis hits or an opportunity suddenly emerges.

You need a rapid response team that can instantly craft the right message and get it to everyone who matters.

You must get your message out first. If you don’t, your critics or competition will define you. Every organization needs a rapid response plan that can be launched at a moment’s notice. Here are the basics:

1. Have your communication platforms in place. Facebook is losing some popularity, but it remains an excellent way to connect with people. If you don’t tweet, you should still have a Twitter account to follow trends that relate to your business.

Do you belong to or host Internet chat rooms that pertain to your industry? Do you have an 800 number you can direct people to if you must respond to a sudden crisis? Email is still a valuable way to communicate, so keep your email list updated. Texting allows you to instantly contact your base.

Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr are hot right now. Decide which options you want to use and assign people to manage them on a daily basis.

2. Use technology to take the public’s pulse. Never assume that you know the public’s reaction to an event. Track their opinions on Twitter, and set Google alerts for keywords that relate to your business or events that will affect it. These free resources can guide you even if you don’t have a large budget.

If you need specific data before responding to a crisis or capitalizing on a news story, consider online surveys or smartphone survey apps. Before you react to a critical situation, make sure you know how your base is feeling about it.

3. Gather your rapid response team and give them three messages. The key to any good communication — and to winning any battle — is consistency. Having one person make a statement and the next person contradict it is the worst possible scenario.

You need to develop three messages that make the same point in different ways. The basic message must be succinct and all members of your team should consistently employ these three messages.

The most effective messages either use a third party to make your point or place the situation in a larger context. When reacting to a crisis, having a loyal client or customer defend you is much more powerful than defending yourself.

As for creating a larger context, choice, fairness and accountability are three concepts that everyone can relate to. You have 15 seconds or less to capture your audience’s attention, so make your point bigger and broader. That’s how to respond in a world that is moving faster every day.

Chris St. Hilaire is founder and CEO of Surveys On The Go, a smartphone market research application.