The tech ecosystem in Africa has seen tremendous growth in the last few years, with some businesses experiencing rapid growth, and others, struggling to survive and ultimately shutting down in numbers. With these expansions and challenges comes susceptibility and vulnerability to various crises that can destabilize and damage the reputation of businesses, hence the need for a sustainable crisis management strategy.
Crisis in this context, refers to a negative public event or situation that, if mishandled, can have detrimental consequences. Crises within the tech industry may stem from different sources, including technical or product failures, legal disputes, social media backlash, cyber attacks, and data breaches. They can also include financial challenges, fraudulent activities, discrimination, harassment, negligence, internal culture issues, and unethical behaviour, to name a few.
Such events when not effectively managed, have the potential to disrupt an organization, causing damage to its reputation through outcomes such as financial losses, halting business operations, loss of stakeholder trust, legal issues, negative media coverage and other long-term repercussions.
In times of crisis, taking immediate action isn't a recommendation — it is mandatory. A crucial factor for achieving a prompt and efficient response lies in having a robust crisis management process firmly in place. Failing to plan is tantamount to planning to fail, a risk no business can afford. Planning equips startups with a structured approach and the confidence needed to control narratives in times of crisis.
Here are 6 proven strategies we have found to be helpful for startups to prepare for and manage crises effectively. Dive in!
- Pre-emptive Risk Assessment
For tech startups, risk assessment involves a comprehensive examination of both internal and external aspects of the company to identify potential vulnerabilities, threats, and crisis scenarios that could impact operations and reputation. Threats like technical outages, data breaches, product flaws, regulatory noncompliance, lawsuits, IP theft, harassment scandals, and other crises can blindside startups if risks are not preemptively managed.
Risk assessment requires auditing internal technical systems and infrastructure to identify security gaps, operational processes to pinpoint risk areas, and evaluating internal communications, culture and policies to identify potential weak spots. Externally, it involves monitoring competition, emerging technologies, political, economic, and social trends, public perception vulnerabilities, and evaluating partnerships to identify potential crises before they blindside the startup.
- Establish a Crisis Management/Response Team
To respond swiftly when crises occur, startups should consider assembling an ad hoc crisis response team. This cross-functional team should include business leaders and decision-makers, public relations and communications specialists, social media managers, technical experts and legal counsel. Together, they can create crisis response strategies, identify potential spokespeople and ensure media-trained subject matter experts are available when needed.
It is not enough to set up a team; effective crisis management requires a well-prepared and trained team. Investing resources in conducting thorough training sessions and exercises periodically, would ensure that the crisis response team are familiar with the crisis communication plan and understands their roles. These simulations allow organizations to test crisis communication plans, evaluate the team's responsiveness, and identify areas for improvement in a low-risk setting.
Additionally, cross-training personnel on different crisis roles builds depth and flexibility in the response team. Team members with a shared understanding of diverse responsibilities can maintain a calm, focused, and coordinated effort even when facing unexpected challenges.
- Develop a Crisis Management Strategy
Once a Crisis Management team has been set up, the next developing a comprehensive crisis management strategy is the next action to take. This involves creating well-thought-out and adaptable strategies tailored to address various crises that may arise. Doing this provides guiding rails in times of crisis, so you are not left with the option of developing plans from scratch under pressure.
While organizations may not be able to predict exact events that may occur, they can create response frameworks for major crisis scenarios based on historical precedent and potential vulnerabilities. Crisis scenarios serve as roadmaps to empower decisive responses and actions that are more strategic and less reactionary.
- Develop a Communication Plan
A well-developed communication plan is essential for effectively managing a crisis. This plan should cover internal and external communication strategies, ensuring that information is disseminated promptly, accurately, and consistently. A crisis communication plan should ideally outline protocols for swiftly updating employees, investors and the board internally, as well as proactive messaging and reactive statements for external audiences including media, customers and partners.
This plan should also highlight how the company will respond to various scenarios, who will be responsible for creating response templates, what communication channels will be utilized, approvals and authorized spokespeople for both internal and external communications, with contingency plans if regular channels are disrupted. This plan should also include policies regarding monitoring and responding to media coverage, social media interactions, and communications from other external parties during a crisis.
- Establish Proactive Media Monitoring
Implementing efficient media monitoring systems is a pivotal element of crisis preparedness for startups. The goal is to systematically track both online and traditional media mentions and conversations related to your brand and industry, and make it a standard practice.
Leveraging aggregators like Google and Talkwalker alerts and tools like Buzzsumo to track mentions of your brand, products, leadership, and relevant industry news and conversations is an easy way to get this started. Designate a personnel or team to review and analyze monitoring reports regularly and leverage data-driven insights to continually refine and enhance crisis management strategies over time.
- Regularly Review and Update Plans
Crisis communication plans must evolve alongside changes in business operations, leadership, regulatory contexts, risk environments, and communication channels. This ongoing process is essential to ensure plans stay relevant, effective and actionable.
When should reviews happen?
- Annually at minimum
- With major company milestones like new product launches, mergers/acquisitions, leadership transitions
- Following major and minor legal and regulatory changes
- After significant events to incorporate lessons learned
- And so on.