On November 27th, Podbean one of the most popular podcast hosting sites had technical difficulties and crashed. Chaos ensued as embedded podcasts wouldn’t work on any website, new podcasts couldn’t be created…Podbean simply wouldn’t load for anyone.

The masses (in classic fashion) took to Twitter to voice their concerns, and they did not hold back on their grievances.

And then, from the shambles and darkness arose a beacon of light: Jennifer.

She was lighting fast in replying to angry people, she created an apology tweet tailored to each specific individual, and she kept it light and funny during this time of turmoil.

If people were angry, she and Podbean sympathized with them:

And if people were more lighthearted about the situation, the response was funny and positive:

And finally, when all was up and running smoothly, they pinned this tweet to the top of their page:

All this got me thinking, small businesses will more than likely run into some sort of crisis during their existence, so they should have a crisis plan in place, and ideally be able to handle something with the same grace that Podbean (and Jennifer!) did.

Creating a Crisis Plan

1. What’s your Crisis?

Think about your business. What’s the absolute worst (yet plausible) thing that could happen?

Does your company process credit cards or have a database with sensitive information? What if that were breached?

What if an inappropriate post was sent out on social media? How would you handle the public backlash?

If you provide food in any way, do you have a plan in place if someone gets sick after eating your product?

What if your product had some sort of dangerous (or potentially dangerous) glitch in it?

All of these are potential crises that could arise for a small business, do you know how you would handle it? Small businesses should map out at least 3 different crisis situations and responses.

2. What’s your plan?

If it’s the fault of the company, the usual plan is: acknowledge, apologize, reprimand (if necessary), and take the steps to prevent this in the future.

If it’s not the fault of the company, but still impacts your customers in some way, the usual plan is: acknowledge, apologize (NOT on behalf of whomever actually messed up), update constantly, and share information on preventative steps that have been taken.

It’s important to remember that in some situations it is best to do NOTHING. Unfortunately, I can’t really give any good examples of when it’s best to not do anything, since they differ for every business, and they’re all across the board. But trust me when I say this – if you’re in the midst of a crisis, you will know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, whether you should do nothing. I promise.

3. Create the proper documents

Depending on the scale of your business (and the crisis), you will want to have (at least) the following on hand:

  • General press release that’s “fill in the blank” style, so it can be changed crisis-dependent.
  • Talking points for whomever may need to get in front of a camera.
  • A step-by-step plan for documenting the crisis (ex.: screenshot the inappropriate post, notify the owner/CEO immediately, etc.).
  • A phone tree. I know it sounds silly, but everyone in the organization will need to be on the same page during every step of the crises to handle it best.

4. What NOT to do

DON’T give a half-assed apology. “I’m sorry you’re upset” is NOT going to fly, and you will be called out on it immediately.

DON’T keep your employees, partners, board, etc. in the dark. During a time of crisis, complete transparency within the company is going to be needed. What would happen if a reporter caught one of your employees off guard, and they said something they shouldn’t have? What if they didn’t even know about the crisis? Keep your people in the loop.

DON’T add fuel to the fire. You never know how someone may interpret something, be it a formal apology or something as simple as the color of the shirt you’re wearing. (No, seriously, that’s a real thing) But in the time of a crisis, assume everything that you do will have a ripple effect – be especially cautious, and plan accordingly.

You know what they say: plan for the worst, and hope for the best. Get a crisis plan in place so it’s there if you need it, but hopefully you’ll never have to touch it!

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