“Ask the Crisis Manager” Vol. 1, No. 2: Search engine results and planning for nonprofit/educational sector

I’m really pleased with the quality of questions received for this feature.  Please keep those great questions coming.  Here’s the latest installment of “Ask the Crisis Manager.”

S. Wallace:  My client has done a lot of very good work for his company, but it’s the one negative thing he did that’s popping up at the top of the Google searches.  How can I get that one negative thing moved down on the Google results so that it’s not top of mind for people? 


J.D.:  This is tough to answer without specifics, but I’ll give it a whirl, S. Wallace. 

I think you’re primarily asking if there are methods out there that claim to game the search algorithms, thereby raising positive posts above a negative result.  There are.  However, I’m not a fan.  This approach smells like digital form of spin to me, and I think all forms of spin are eventually debilitating.

When my clients fret about search engine results, we often spend more productive time addressing the underlying deficiencies rather than fixating on the search itself.  For example, was there an insufficient response to the negative thing in the first place?  Is there an overall lack of (online) communication about the good things to provide counterbalance?  Is it expected that the client should be interacting online more?

There are times when a negative search result is based on misinformation or a distortion of facts.  Here, consider purchasing sponsored space on search engines, and direct people to an online space to get more accurate information.

I hope this helps your client.


Karen:  Hello.  I’ll soon be starting a job as marketing communications manager for a large university library.  While crises are rare, they do occur, such as an assault in the stacks a couple of years ago.  What are your thoughts on how crisis planning in this setting should be executed/how it differs from the business setting, and how can I “sell” crisis planning to non-communications/non-business managers?  Thank You! 

J.D.:  Karen, congratulations on your new job at the library!  (Sorry, was that too loud?)

Like any other business, your library has important stakeholders that hold it accountable.  Therefore, your approach to crisis planning shouldn’t be much different.  You’ll still be wise to assess your stakeholders’ worst-case fears and concerns.  Then build a response capability around those concerns.  The size of the capability needed can be fit to scale.  None of this needs to be complex or expensive. 

Many crisis pros tend to fixate on the crisis plan, but I think a strong capability has to start with a leader who has the right mindset and relevant experience (or is committed to training).  From there, you can scope out the rest of the capability:  a written plan, monitoring system, notification systems, support teams, et cetera. 

I think your library is already off to a good start because you’re actively thinking about crisis management.  Sometimes, this is the biggest hurdle – getting organizations to treat crisis preparedness as a process, not a plan.  Keep that torch lit!   

Selling this in shouldn’t be difficult.  If you face resistance, consider scaring the hell out of your leadership.  How? 

  • Mock-up a front page story of your local newspaper, featuring the worst case scenario and the library’s likely lethargic, incomplete response that would result with no capability in place.
    • Make sure you include disclaimer language (e.g., FOR TRAINING PURPOSES ONLY) on the mock-up.  You don’t want your exercise to cause a crisis!
    • When the timing is right, share this mock-up as part of a broader planning meeting.  It’s a great way to kick-start a conversation on crisis management. 
    • Probe: 
      • How likely are these headlines if this situation happened tomorrow?
      • Can everyone agree that this is an avoidable situation, with some planning?
      • Can we agree on the basics – a crisis management leader and a commitment to build a capability to avoid this situation?

Let me know how it goes!


Please contribute by sending your questions through the Contact / Ask tab above.  I’d like to make this blog as interactive as possible.

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