This year has seen its fair share of social media blunders by major corporations. Dove, Adidas, McDonald’s, Uber and even the Department for Education have been in hot water thanks to poor social media usage. Pepsi sat at the center of a major controversy when they debuted a new commercial boiling down racial tension to a need for more Pepsi.

So how does a company—or a church—respond when they find themselves at the center of controversy either through moral failures of a leader or the actions of an outsider?

This is where a crisis communication plan comes into play.

What is a crisis communication plan?

It is different than a disaster preparedness plan. Disaster preparedness plans typically deal only with the tangible aspects of a crisis, whereas a crisis communication plan deals with the intangible aspects like knowledge and fear alleviation. While these are different they work in tandem in times of crisis.

It thinks through the crises before they occur. Handling the minor decisions before a crisis comes frees up a leader to deal with the major issues at the time of crisis. Issues such as where microphones are located, or who to contact in the media are things that shouldn’t be left up to the moment problems arise. Having a plan will keep a leader where the leader needs to be.

It helps leaders consider the full picture of their organization. If an institution is not careful it can be caught up in multiple crises resulting in a new crisis of crises. Crisis management is a rather new, but important, field of study. Crisis management is the best result of a crisis communication plan.

Why is it important? The world of public relations has been forever changed by social media where a good day can become a crisis in milliseconds.

Social media is fast and constant. If you don’t have a proactive plan your reaction won’t be quick enough. What types of replies/comments get a response? What kind of occurrences get an organization statement?

Social media remembers. If you respond as an organization one way at one time, and another way at another time not only is recorded, but it’s remembered. Consistency is the result of a plan, not a reaction. Sometimes the plan needs to be revised, true, other times you just have to stick to the plan.

Social media can end a career or an organization.

Brand managers, social media managers, public relations professionals all are in the limelight of the organization. The way they handle their personal social media will reflect on the professional accounts they manage. This is a twofold point: hiring trustworthy people and having a plan just in case things go sideways at the speed of social media.

Still more, churches are constantly being examined for trustworthiness and high ethical values (and when moral failures happen folks are quick to point out the church’s flaws). Knowing when, and how, to respond is vital during this times.

Developing a crisis communication plan (and possibly a crisis management team) has only become more necessary in the days of social media. How does your organization prepare, are you prepared? The question is not ‘if’ a crisis will arise rather it’s ‘when.’ Don’t wait to make a plan.

Sam Morris

Sam Morris, is the Electronic Marketing Specialist for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife have one son.