Two weeks ago I came across a blog post by Drew Neisser titled, “Crisis Management: No Time for Amateurs” in my RSS subscription setup.  I receive more than 1,000 posts in my feeds every day and during my first pass through them I’m simply skimming and looking for things that require further in depth reading.  If they do make the cut, they get sent to my Instapaper account. This post was so spot on that I read it immediately inside my reader.  I implore you to go click the link, read the interview and then come back.  I promise this post will still be here.

One of the analogies that I use when speaking with potential clients is to describe my services as that of a firefighter.  I’m the guy that no one wants to call but are incredibly thankful after receiving help in their darkest moment of need.  Most in-house social media personnel I describe as similar to gardeners.  They tend to customers, shareholders and employee relationships.  They grow content much the same way that plants grow flowers.

When the house is burning and garden is up in flames, you don’t want your gardener and their limited firehose (in this case ability to create targeted content and the know-how on the delivery that needs to be done) trying to put the fire out.  Firefighters have a game plan on how to end the fire’s destructive capacity and can use any number of resources that are available to them in that environment to get the job done.

There are any number of ways to learn about crisis management (and sure I do go into companies and consult on exactly this) but there’s nothing like having the experience of living through actual events and getting a company to another side.  That said, role playing can really get an internal team much closer to a firefighter’s stance versus that of a gardener’s.

Here’s where having someone on your team who can act as a librarian to dig up what was going on during your company’s last crisis can be huge. If you’re just on the heels of a crisis, even better.  Create an After Action Report describing everything that occurred and that the company did in response. Write these up as if they were business case studies (yes, like those that you had if you got a business degree and saw way too many of if you got an MBA) and make them activities for new social media, marketing and public relations professionals who join your team.  See what alternative options they see given the scenario and as an organization be humble enough to evaluate them and maybe even consider adding those new tactics to your social media crisis response plan as part of a possible strategy.

Business tends to be so focused on going forward at all times, that they fail to do what public speakers (or at least the best ones I know) and athletes do every week: go back and watch the tape to review previous performances and see where their teams weaknesses were and how they as a complete unit could perform better next time.  Rookies are allowed to make mistakes but they’re not allowed to be ignorant and unaware of the environment around them so make sure to train them up and make them into pseudo-firefighters so that they can be a first line of defense should your company come head on into a crisis.