You and your PR team have a detailed crisis communications plan. The problem is, it’s wrong.

Crisis communication principles have lagged changing expectations of transparency and responsiveness from today’s consumer. Today’s empowered consumers, as Forrester calls them, have the devices and ability to uncover and share facts — and rumors — even as the crisis communication plan tries to spin its own story.

In contrast to Mark Twain’s observation that lies can get halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on, in today’s environment, the truth gets all the way around the world before the spin gets its boots on.

With half of the Fortune 100 companies being hit with a crisis in the past three years, and more in the headlines every day, companies need to infuse their crisis communications plan with the rules of modern marketing:

  • Be human. Corporate speak is out. Carefully worded statements that avoid saying much of anything to limit legal exposure only enrage today’s consumers more. First, you must show that you understand how consumers feel, as Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson did in his post that called the racial bias incident in a Philadelphia Starbucks store “a reprehensible outcome” and that “you can and should expect more from us.”
  • Be helpful. Apologies are a start, but consumers now expect a serious and ongoing commitment to rectifying the problem. Starbucks showed the way by closing stores for an afternoon in May for racial bias awareness training developed with the NAACP. The company also posted the curriculum on its blog for continued transparency about the incident.
  • Be handy. Today, incidents range from an isolated negative tweet to a full-blown media firestorm, so a single approach to crisis response isn’t enough. Companies must triage which incidents demand a response and tune responses to the unique needs of each channel — web, blog, social, and more — not just push out the same stale press release on their corporate PR site.

In today’s polarized, hair-trigger-response world, these rules may not help avoid your brand being embroiled in a crisis. But it can improve the odds of the brand emerging with its consumer relationships intact, and perhaps strengthened.

The new report Emily Collins and I coauthored, “Brands Forget The Rules Of Modern Marketing When Crisis Hits,” goes into greater depth on this topic.