A few months ago, the second largest city in New Zealand, Christchurch was significantly affected by an earthquake.  Within 48 hours I found myself on a plane, rushing to the aid of the people as part of a Salvation Army relief team.  It seemed a bit odd to be honest.  Vast amounts of people were leaving the city while others of us were rushing in with little idea of what to expect.

The city of Christchurch was a mess.  To suggest that things were somewhat chaotic would be an understatement.  It became apparent that most of the emergency and relief agencies had very little or no idea of what to do.  The first day was certainly not productive.  I stayed for a period of about 7 days.  I was really surprised by day 3, as systems were put in place, leaders rose from the rubble and a well-oiled machine was kicked into action.

It was quite clear that someone, somewhere had come up with a plan, prior to the disaster and with a bit of time it quickly started to take effect.

I wonder what your planning is like.  Have you sat down with a team of people within your organisation to work out what it means to be a Social Business?  How can you engage with your employees and customers in such a way that you're both transparent and nimble?  What is your design for reputation and risk management?

Often I talk to companies about Reputation and Risk Management and what that entails for the Social Business.  It takes years to build a great reputation for your brand, but just a moment to bring it all crashing down.  Without understating what it means to be a Social Business, to enter into the world of Social Media is not without its dangers.  The Social Business needs to be able to support Social Media attempts.

Consider what it takes to build a reputation.  This is not something which happens through a tweet or a Facebook comment; it’s far more than that.  It starts with the culture of the organisation, not only that, but it deals with the entire customer experience.  If companies AREN’T struggling with this, then they’re probably onto the road to nowhere.

Part of your plan for Reputation and Risk Management needs to include what is happening in the online world of comments, tweets and blogs.  Particularly in areas where you have no control (where you don’t own the conversation).  Just with a natural disaster, it’s important to learn from the experience and mistakes of others and to understand various scenarios within the context of your business.  Based on this information, you’re then able to come up with an action plan. An action plan should include the who, what, when, where and why. 

Who needs to be on the team?  By having guidelines in place, empowered employees will be able to identify threats and know who needs to be engaged to respond.  This may include brand managers, line of business executives, marketing, legal counsel and maybe even the CEO.  It’s one thing to know who needs to be engaged, but the organisation needs to be nimble enough to bring the response team together as time is of essence.

What is the issue, the impact and what are you going to do?  Determining what the issue/s may be comes down to how hard you’re listening.  Listening should be the easier part, while the impact can change significantly within a few hours.  Trying to work out what you’re going to do while a crisis is in mid-flight may result in poor decision making which will impact on internal employees and processes.

Knowing when to put a plan in place is also vital.  The best plan executed at the wrong time could have all sorts of consequences.  You need to understand the viral nature of Social Media.  A typically observed trend is for a discussion on twitter to begin to trend, within a couple of hours it will hit the blogs and YouTube.  Another couple of hours and these blogs and videos which may be of novice opinion, will then be shared and 12 hours latter will have hit traditional print media.

Understanding where to respond can be a bit tricky.  The obvious choice might be to start with the origin of the conversation.  It could be a corporate website, a forum or even a blog.  It may be all of these.  As part of your planning process, it’s important to know where your customers are going to be impacted and influenced the most.  These are likely to be key focus points, but remember to keep your eyes wide open.

With anything you do, ask a simple one word question, “why?” Understand why you’re doing what you’re doing.  By having a plan in place, these are questions which you’re less like the need to consider during a crisis allowing you to focus on the best outcomes.