Ten years ago, when you thought about crisis communication, you thought about a plant explosion or other such catastrophe. Today, it’s the little things that keep you up at night—sometimes arriving in 140 characters or less.

Embarrassing posts on your Twitter feed—whether due to a security breach or an ill-advised employee—have turned many organizations on their heads in recent months. So have errant texts and videos produced by teenagers about your corporate brand. Today’s crises center less on events and more on people—on what people say (think Paula Deen), how they behave (think Domino’s Pizza), and what they do (think Anthony Weiner or Eliot Spitzer).

Chemical spills like the recent incident in West Virginia are tragic, and communications surrounding these instances must be managed carefully. But more frequent these days are people-related catastrophes. Driven by social media, a company’s worst nightmare today can be a negative tweet or an employee’s offensive remark. Incidents are no longer contained to small groups, nor do they take time to develop. Crises can happen instantaneously, and can be amplified to the world. Worst of all, they don’t even have to be true to bring down your reputation.

Indeed, social media has created a challenging new environment for companies and organizations to effectively manage their brands. Today, the ability to quickly and effectively respond isn’t nice-to-have, it’s a necessity.

As a result, companies need to think Crisis Communication. It’s no longer just about key messages and trained spokespeople, though those are still needed. It’s also about two important aspects: 1) Rapid Response Plans for the social media space, and 2) limiting risk through Brand Protection Readiness.

Rapid Response Plans

Networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube can quickly amplify a negative incident and must be dealt with quickly and effectively. This page gives you basic readiness and response information. Have these strategies in place, before a crisis:

• Basic understanding of the social media space and its power to amplify and/or respond to a crisis
• Vendor for social “listening” that can be immediately activated.
• One person or department who will be responsible for organizing and executing your response plan when needed (territorial issues should be decided far in advance)
• Vendor for video scripting, development and editing
• Active Twitter account, Facebook page and YouTube channel
• Contact lists of industry bloggers and key influencers
• Contact lists of industry trade pubs (editors, bloggers)
• B-roll or stock video footage (prepared in advance) of important company assets and process, such as research, safety checks, quality control and friendly, confident people, that can be posted quickly to social media sites such as YouTube to help tell your brand story.

Brand Protection

Brand protection begins with evaluating an organization’s core values. It’s about creating systemic incorruptibility, based on organizational integrity, that drives each and every organizational decision from the top down. It is about developing clear policies, hyper-transparency, and the willingness to do the right thing. And it is absolutely required for successful crisis communication in today’s digital age. By making a commitment to always doing the right thing, you are creating a strong foundation that will help you overcome any attempts to spoil your reputation from acts of God to acts of the Internet.