There’s no shortage of crises these days. From fake news to social media blunders to executives who misbehave, brands must constantly be on guard against issues that can quickly throw them into a tailspin.

Surprisingly, preparing for such an event may be low on the priority list. In fact, only 54% of brands say they have a crisis communications plan in place[i]. This means that 46 % have no plan at all for dealing with such a crisis.

So, what can you do to prepare?

One of the best ways to be ready for a crisis if it happens is to have a strong community in place. Why?

Rumors, whether true or false, can go viral. Once that happens, it can be tough to stop the momentum. But, if you’ve built a loyal community of fans and followers, that can be one of the best ways to combat negative stories or rumors, should they arise.

Your fans have your back. And when they speak on a brand’s behalf, it’s much more credible than a brand defending itself.

And, with a loyal community of followers, you may not even have to ask them to defend you in the face of a damaging news story. If they really love you, they’ll jump at the chance to sing your praises, whether or not they’ve been invited to do so.

One case in point: Jeni’s Ice Cream. The brand suffered through not one but two listeria outbreaks in its plant. But Jeni’s faithful continued to support the brand. They leaped to its defense not only on social media but also in person, lining up when the stores reopened.

So, what are they keys to building and leveraging such a loyal community of fans?:

  • Build it before you need it: Like many things, planning ahead is crucial to success when it comes creating a community. If you wait until you need the community to build it, it may be too late. But, if you begin working on it and consistently nurture it, chances are it will be there for you when you need it.
  • Shore up your social media presence: Having a community of followers is important—having a forum where they can come to your aid is equally so. Social media can go hand-in-hand with a loyal fan base. If you’re active on social media, it provides your fans with an outlet where they can share their thoughts. If you can tie your community to your social, it can be a truly powerful weapon in your arsenal.

For example, when Jeni’s crisis hit, they were able to turn to their social media channels to help educate customers about the recall and its effects. Had they not had their fan base AND been active on social media, things might not have turned out as well.

  • Make sure you have a way to listen to your community: Your community can be a gauge for how a crisis is being viewed. If you have a way to “listen” to your followers, you’ll get an idea of how they’re feeling about a perceived crisis. Are they only mildly concerned? Or is the community blowing up with feedback? If you’re listening to your community, you can head off an issue before it mushrooms into something bigger.
  • Share information they need to know: If a brand is transparent in a crisis, fans are more likely to want to defend it. If you disseminate information as soon as you’re aware of it, this will go a long way toward building trust with your community. It also arms them with the facts they need to help refute any misinformation that may be swirling around on social media.

Those are just a few tips on how to leverage your community in the case of a crisis. The bottom line is that if your community is in place, there’s no end to the ways it can benefit your brand. It can be your best line of defense in tumultuous times.