Social media giveth, and social media taketh away. One thing our "always on" news cycle has "giveth" is the opportunity for a minor customer service issue or statement to blow up into a full-fledged public relations crisis in just a few hours.

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Fortunately, you're not completely at the mercy of circumstance (or Twitter). There are ways you can protect your brand from the the crises that every organization is guaranteed to experience at some point.

Melissa Agnes is a crisis management expert, author of the book Crisis Ready: A Strategy for Building an Invincible Brand in an Uncertain Worldand a featured speaker at the upcoming MarketingProfs Virtual Conference on marketing strategy.

A leading authority on crisis preparedness, reputation management, and brand protection, Melissa has developed a "Crisis-Ready Model" to help organizations mitigate reputational risk.

Here are just a few highlights from our conversation:

Getting your brand "crisis-ready" isn't just about your marketing and PR teams (04:45): "Being 'crisis-ready' is cultural. It means that the entire organization, every single member of the team no matter what department we're talking about, understands what risk looks like and how to detect it in real-time. Because the longer it takes to detect, the more 'Crisis Response Penalty' (CRP) you will suffer. You want to detect it right away to give your organization the best head start at managing it.

"So what it looks like, how to detect it, how to assess its material impact on the organization—'Is it a crisis vs. an issue'—is essential for the team to understand and know intuitively. That enables effective response. To be 'crisis-ready' means you're not just managing any negative event in a way that puts it to bed. You're managing any type of negative event in a way that fosters increased trust and credibility in the brand, making your brand invincible.

Know the difference between an issue and a crisis (06:04): "The difference between an issue and a crisis is the long-term material impact that it has on the organization. Both are negative situations or negative events. However, a crisis stops business as usual to some extent, because it requires direct and immediate escalation to leadership. And when I say 'leadership,' I mean the top of leadership.

"[A crisis] stops business as usual, it pulls [leadership] out of their meetings. They need to look at it, they need to understand it, they need to assess it. They need to make decisions and provide guidance and directives to the rest of the team because the incident threatens long-term material impact on one or all of the following five things:

  1. People (stakeholders, whether internal or external)
  2. Environment
  3. Business operations
  4. Reputation 
  5. Bottom-line revenue 

"So a crisis is a negative event that stops business as usual, requires direct and immediate escalation to leadership because it threatens long-term material impact on people, environment,  business operations, reputation, and/or bottom line.

"An 'issue' is also a negative event or situation, but it doesn't stop business as usual. Look at issue management as 'business as usual on hyperdrive.' It doesn't require taking leadership out of significant meetings, because it doesn't threaten a long-term material impact on the brand. 

Get "crisis-ready" now, before there's an issue or a crisis (25:50): "First, define 'issue' vs. 'crisis' for your organization, because a crisis for one doesn't automatically translate into a crisis for another. You need to know what your definitions are so that you can appropriately assess and detect. From there, it's about identifying what your most likely high-impact issues and high-impact crises are. The most likely high-impact events that you're vulnerable to, what are they? You can't be crisis-ready without knowing what they are." 

To learn more about making your brand "crisis ready," register for our free MarketingProfs Virtual Conference on marketing strategy to hear Melissa's full presentation. You can also visit her website or get a copy of her book, Crisis Ready: Building an Invincible Brand in an Uncertain World. And be sure to follow Melissa on LinkedIn and Twitter: @melissa_agnes.

Melissa and I talked about much more, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

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Music credit: Noam Weinstein.