The Institute for Public Relations defines issues management as “an anticipatory, strategic management process that helps organisations respond appropriately to emerging trends or changes in the socio-political environment.” Let’s unpack that for a second: my two favourite words here are ‘anticipatory’ and ‘strategic’. This perfectly encapsulates the most crucial elements of issues management and crisis communications.

Being anticipatory involves monitoring the social and political landscape around your industry for changes that could impact your organisation. The strategic aspect naturally points to your issues and crisis management strategy, a constantly evolving document based on your analysis of the past and imagined possible scenarios for the future. Unless you have psychic abilities or a crystal ball, no matter what industry you’re in, some unexpected issues are going to arise.

What does handling issues and crises look like in the digital world? Simply put, everything is moving faster than ever before! Here are a few key points of difference worth considering:

Social Media Won’t Wait

Social media is FAST. Check out this article from Mumbrella about Rugby Australia’s handling of a rather messy situation involving the personal social posts of one of their players, Israel Folau. It’s an interesting example of just how quickly news can spread across these channels, and how a slow response can be detrimental to your brand.

If you find yourself in a situation where you’re managing a potential or growing issue, a proactive approach is always best. Keep an eye on metrics like mentions and sentiment towards your brand by using tactics like social listening [link to our blog]. Keep your followers updated on your social media channels as much as you can as issues unfold – the social media sphere measures time in minutes, not hours or days. If you can be ahead of the curve in addressing a possible concern for your consumers, they’re going to be more likely to trust you even if it does escalate. Of course, balance is key – keep your lines of communication open, but there’s no need to make a mountain out of a molehill.

Social is also an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with your followers. Receiving a response to messages and comments makes people feel heard and valued. Be sure to stick to your key messaging, but don’t be too strict – cookie cutter responses can be worse than no response if they don’t really address someone’s question.

The Media Won’t Wait

 While dealing with the media is nothing new for the seasoned PR professional, the way media is consumed and disseminated is faster and more insatiable than ever before. Use technology to your advantage. When issues escalate, get your key decision makers on a call to start problem solving and lock down your key messaging.

In the wake of the two fatal air crashes involving the same plane model, the Boeing 737 MAX, Boeing has been heavily criticised for their public response to the crisis. Naturally, the public sentiment is incredibly strong in this instance, with 346 people having lost their lives in the accidents and the safety of the plane thrown into question as fleets are grounded. Their response has been described as “bureaucratic and slow…often taking hours or days to issue statements or respond to reporters” – you can read more about expert opinions on the Boeing crisis in this piece from Seattle Times. When your organisation is in crisis mode, time is not on your side, especially when the safety of your product is under scrutiny.

Here’s where it gets tricky – you need to be fast, but also genuine. A generic response might be the fastest way to weigh in, but authenticity is brand-crucial so taking this approach could be just as damaging as not preparing a statement in those first few reports. Social media can be your friend here too – if you have a statement on your social platforms, it’s an easily accessible point for the public to find your stance, and for the media to quote from.

 Everything is Issues Management

Issues management doesn’t just come into play when it looks like something might go wrong. It’s an ongoing communications tactic that ensures your brand remains aligned to its values and the values of its consumers.

Do you need issues management support? Think Communications offers a range of services, so whether you have an internal communications team who need short-term support or are looking for a long-term communications partner – we’re here for you.