You don’t think it will happen to you, until it does. However if you plan correctly, you don’t have to be completely unprepared.
As a startup, you’re probably thinking, “we’ll take it as it comes” or a real favourite, “startups don’t need formal processes or plans”. We’ve all been there, but as a startup founder you have to take charge.
Here’s 5 tips to help your startup survive its next crisis.
#1 Facts first.
You need to ensure that you always collect facts first. When your startup nose dives into a crisis, and you’re notified, either through an email from a friend (it happens), a journalist, team member or worse a client, it’s normal to get rattled. It is normal to feel your heart racing and go into panic mode.
Your emotions will want to take over. Your most important task in this phase is to stop your emotions from taking over. Do not communicate from a place of frustration or anger. Gather the facts and communicate only what needs to be communicated and ensure that this is done with all the facts on the table.
Empathy is not finite. There is more than enough to go around and if you truly want to get out of your crisis, it is the most important factor to leverage. If your startup made a mistake, hold your hands up and acknowledge what happened.
Acknowledge your customers’ frustrations. Your job is to understand why they are frustrated and to show empathy for this. Be careful not to direct that empathy towards yourself or your startup. Remember, no one cares that you had a bad day, they care that you solve their problems.
#3 Manage expectations
You must manage the expectations of everyone, including your team, board members, stakeholders and importantly your customers. Do not make false promises when you are managing these expectations but ensure you communicate effectively and clearly. Managing the expectations with your customers should be one the central elements of your crisis communication plan.
#4 Understand that key messages are fluid
Key messages aren’t slogans for your startup, they can change. While the core will remain the same, your message can pivot to assist you during a crisis. You can add to your message or adjust it along the way. You must however be sure to include a call to action in your key message.
During a crisis, it is especially important to be clear about how you can be reached or what customers need to do. If there is nothing that needs to be done, then that must be clear too..
#5 Read the room
Your job as the crisis communication spokesperson is to actively gauge the reaction of the person you are interacting with. It goes beyond just understanding the reaction of your journalist and the direction they may be taking with your story. You must gauge the room but also understand when to pivot your key message.
A crucial element to remember is that you must also read the room when it comes to your customers. Watch the sentiment around your message. Social media is a powerful tool to monitor the sentiment around your crisis. You can actively read what people are saying about your startup and the key messages you are putting out there.
Remember you will see people criticizing your statements, but not all negative statements require you to change your messages. Understanding how many negative reactions will prompt you to change your key message is key to managing your way through a crisis.
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