In crisis, listening is key—so set up a call tree

by | Jul 12, 2017 | Crisis Communications, Public Relations

What’s everyone saying about your crisis? Is it really as bad as you thought? Is it worse?

It’s important to listen to what the world is saying about your brand during a crisis. It’s likely that you’ll need to address concerns, answer questions and reassure your loyal customers that you’re working hard to right the wrong or fix the problem.

So where do you start to gather this information? You could stop people on the street and ask them their thoughts, but that might be a little weird and time consuming. Why not start where people share everything with the world? Social media!

Social media is where most people go to voice their opinions and complaints. You can easily search for what people are talking about on Facebook, Twitter and more using hashtags and keywords. Plug your company’s name in the search bar and see what comes up. Research industry-related topics or keywords related to your crisis. If you manage several accounts on various social platforms, Hootsuite can help you manage streams based on specific keywords.

The easiest way to get information is to Google your brand. You’ll see which news sites are writing about your crisis as well as how often they’re talking about it and what they’re focusing on. All important to know so you can address those issues during interviews or via your own social media accounts. The great thing about Google is you can set up alerts. Google Alerts allows you to choose keywords you’d like to receive news alerts for as soon as the keywords appear online.

Research has consistently shown that listening is critical for communication and conflict resolution, especially during a crisis. Consumers want to make sure their voices are heard, especially when there’s a problem, so make sure you hear them out.

But it’s not just about you! Be sure to watch when a competitor experiences a crisis. Take special note of how they handle the crisis, how they talk about the situation and who covers the story. You can take those key learnings and build them into your own crisis plan.

Setting up a crisis call tree

Key to surviving any crisis is effective communication, and one effective way to distribute up-to-date information clearly and quickly to a large group of people is a “Crisis Call Tree.”

A call tree is essentially a group notification system in which a network of people is organized in such a way that information can be easily and quickly distributed. It is called a “tree” because the contacts are organized in branches, where each one contains a “head person” and a number of people who are to be called by the “head person.”

Your first step in communicating effectively will be to determine who needs to know what and when; determine who your key team members are for a crisis such as the CEO, legal counsel and a head of marketing to start. Depending on the type of crisis and size of your company, this list could include your entire Marketing Department and outside agencies like public relations and social media.

Once the crisis team has been identified, you will decide to whom each key team member needs to deliver information. Are there store managers who need to be kept in the loop? Are there lower-level employees on the marketing team helping out with the distribution of information that need to be updated? Does your social media team need to be in the loop to field questions online?

Once teams have been identified, you need to establish a method in which information can be distributed quickly and effectively. A communication protocol is established to keep everyone informed. Email chains coupled with a Google Doc can be ideal in keeping entire teams up-to-date, while phone calls are key for top people to ensure accurate information is relayed in a timely manner. Timely communication is important. As a team, identify and stick to a plan in terms of when updates will be shared and how the information will flow.

The content of your crisis call tree should include all members of each team, divided into tiers, their title and all relevant contact information including desk phone, mobile phone and email.

Brandi Calhoun
Brandi Calhoun, a recent graduate of Texas State University, is an intern at Austin, Texas-based PR and graphic design firm Snackbox.


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