Issues management sounds like a fairly broad term but in public relations terms it refers to keeping an eye on any issue that has the potential to disrupt or damage your business reputation.

So you might be thinking now that issues management is not for you but there isn’t a business out there that doesn’t have ‘issues’ that could dent their reputation.

Of course there are businesses that have bigger and more complex issues to handle because they are larger and more exposed to multiple stakeholders like Woolworths which faces a myriad of issues every day. I spent two years working there in a media relations role and the issues ranged from big ongoing things like market domination and went right down to stray shopping trolleys at individual store level.

But you’d be surprised about the sort of issues that can affect even small specialised organisations. For example, an accounting firm could have its reputation damaged if a client was disgruntled and took legal action against them and gained media coverage. A small retail outlet could have a disgruntled customer who goes online and slams them on Twitter or on an influential forum.

So what should you do about issues management? Some would say you just deal with things as they arise but there are ways you can plan in advance so you are at least prepared to handle issues.

The key to issues management is being prepared.

After all, most crises were just a minor issue before they became a full-blown crisis for a business. Many a business reputation has been sullied online without the knowledge of the business. In extreme examples, the business notices a significant drop in sales before they even become aware that they’re being discussed online. For some it may be too late to salvage the lost reputation.

A great way to avoid online conversations getting out of control is to monitor them yourself. Identify forums that are relevant to your business, get yourself on Twitter, Facebook and other relevant social media channels for your business and get familiar with them. See if your competitors are there too. Then set up Google alerts and RSS feeds to relevant forums, websites, etc to keep an eye on what is being said about your business and industry.

You could also come up with a list of potential issues that could affect your business and then think about how you could respond. This will vary from business to business so there’s no one answer here. For example, if you have a workplace with manual workers and there’s potential for an accident, have all the relevant phone numbers for unions, insurers, etc on hand so you can react quickly if the worst happens.

The key to issues management is being prepared. Don’t let a small issue become a big one and do real damage to your precious reputation.

- Nicola