How to create a crisis plan in less than 30 minutes

You should already have a plan in place, but some situations require swift improvisation. Here’s how to whip up an effective plan in record time.


Several months ago, one of my clients had to fire a client.

My client is a small company, and a few employees manage the brand’s social media sites. I’m the de facto marketing director.

Firing a client is never easy, but it’s much harder when you’re running a small company. You can’t afford to have one patron gobble up most of the resources and cause others to complain.

Success or failure was going to happen fast; the fired client had already mobilized his team on social media.

Engage the 30-minute crisis plan

We had 30 minutes to create a crisis plan. Here’s how we did it:

5 minutes: Understand what happened. We let the client go. The client took to Twitter and posted to Yelp.

5 minutes: Understand what could happen. We created a spreadsheet of all the review sites we were on that the client had not yet attacked. We also included a list of review sites we weren’t on.

2 minutes: Identified our biggest fans (people who loved us and had great experiences with us), and gather their contact information.

3 minutes: Contacted our biggest fans and asked that if they saw anything on social media that didn’t match their experiences with us, if could they share their positive experiences.

5 minutes: Developed a brief, consistent and non-inflammatory message our employees could refer if reporters called. As this was a private matter, we didn’t post the message online.

5 minutes: Decided which parts of the message our employees would use online, and how often we would respond to our former client’s rants.

Total time: 25 minutes

You’ll need to monitor the situation, and respond if more complaints come in, but you can be ready for a crisis in about 30 minutes. We would have liked more time to create the crisis plan, but we made it work.

Thankfully there wasn’t much discussion about what to say and how to say it. Disagreement on word choice and commas takes time away from the key issue: damage control.

A crisis plan doesn’t have to take forever

I hope you never experience a crisis, but you should still create a crisis plan for your business. Here are a few tips to get started:

1. Do a monthly inventory of all your social media properties, potential review sites and other places where people can comment on your business. At a minimum, do all of these properties have your contact information so someone can report a problem instead of leaving a nasty review?

2. Create a contact list of your biggest fans in your customer relationship management software or a spreadsheet everyone can see. Include phone numbers, email addresses and social media information.

3. Set up Mention and Talkwalker alerts for all mentions of your business name, Twitter handle and key employees’ names and Twitter handles. (Include any common misspellings.) Set up a column on HootSuite or TweetDeck.

4. Respond promptly to negative comments. One hour is a long response time on Twitter, but one day is not a long response time on Yelp. Facebook is somewhere in between. Prioritize your communications based on expected response times.

5. Designate a point and backup-point person who will quarterback these communications and write the communications plan.

Prepare a crisis plan now—before your 30 minutes begins—and your business can avoid the wrath of a disgruntled ex-customer.

Phil Gerbyshak is speaker, corporate sales trainer and small business coach.  Read more of Phil’s work at Spin Sucks.


One Response to “How to create a crisis plan in less than 30 minutes”

    Ronald N. Levy says:

    Yes but if you spend only 30 minutes on creating a crisis plan, how much time may you have to spend trying to create an improved resume?

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