The world gasped as video of a United Airlines passenger being violently dragged from his seat by transit police went viral. The airline’s spiraling reputation crisis played out just a week after brand Pepsi was hit with a barrage of social criticism for a splashy ad derided as tone-deaf. Just weeks before, Uber had sustained a series of reputation dings that left it struggling to recover. The car service was beset with charges of sex discrimination in the workplace, misbehavior by founder Travis Kalanick and stealth use of software to evade regulators―among other headaches.

All three are major brands with the resources and know-how to come back from a negative situation. But all would probably agree that it’s better to avoid or mitigate the crisis in the first place—to be crisis-proof. There was a time when a racial slur uttered by someone in line at Walmart happened quietly, or when a CEO arguing with an employee (as Kalanick was recorded doing) was shrugged off. No longer. Today, there’s always a smartphone nearby, the outrage machine is cranking, and the social mob is ready to pile on. In times of crisis, digital media is the great leveler, capable of taking down CEOs, celebrities, and ordinary citizens as well as brands.

While there’s no way to truly “crisis-proof” a corporate brand, there are steps that make it less likely to happen and its impact less severe.

The Eight Steps To Becoming More Crisis-Proof

Know your dealbreakers.

There’s a negative situation and then there’s a business-threatening crisis. A rude employee or even a workplace misbehavior is not necessarily a dealbreaker for most companies. United will weather its latest storm despite everything, in part because we have low expectations of the airline experience. But if you’re a baby food company and there are safety concerns about your product, that’s a dealbreaker. If you’re a beauty brand positioned around diversity and you discriminate in the workplace, that’s a dealbreaker. Those are the nightmare scenarios that should be prioritized when planning a crisis response.

Empower customer-facing employees.

The companies that are particularly vulnerable to a local situation that spirals out of control are those with large and distributed workforces like retailers, restaurants, and airlines. Where feasible, it’s hugely beneficial to grant customer-facing employees the power to resolve or escalate a complaint or unexpected situation by granting a customer a swift benefit, bending a rule, or waiving a penalty. Every corporation must maintain its rules and policies, but good employee judgment is like gold and offering the freedom to exercise it can prevent a simmering situation from exploding all over the internet.

Hope for the best but expect the worst.

To crisis-proof your band, it pays to cycle through one or more of the worst-case scenarios, based on prior experience and institutional knowledge of where the brand and the category are most vulnerable. The baby food reference above comes from a brand I once represented that had weathered a serious crisis in which bits of glass were found in its products. Though only a handful of items were affected, a deluge of complaints of glass particles in food (some real, most imagined) nearly brought down the company after media coverage hit. Even decades later, a strong crisis-preparedness sensibility pervaded the entire organization, from the C-level to every rank-and-file employee. It showed in every aspect of the company’s business, including how it handled consumer complaints and managed sourcing, manufacturing, and marketing. Most importantly, it had a detailed crisis-proof plan that included a communications protocol refreshed quarterly with drills for key executives.

Anoint a crisis plan leader.

The most common way to plan for an unanticipated situation is with a task force of relevant executives who develop the crisis-proof strategy in advance. But if something goes wrong, it’s important to move quickly. A single decision-maker, usually the CEO or a chief communications officer, should have this role. Too often, precious minutes and hours tick by while a company’s management team or Board struggles with how to respond to an unexpected situation or happening. In a true crisis, there may not be a “right” or “wrong” decision but shades of gray. It’s more important to be swift and decisive than to be perfect. The enemy of the best crisis-proof response isn’t a bad decision, it’s a delayed decision because paralysis has taken hold.

Have a top-notch media spokesperson.

Any organization that is vulnerable to a high-stakes reputation threat should also have a trained media spokesperson among its ranks to be more crisis-proof. If a situation does blow up, they’re prepared to respond quickly to media inquiries or explain a potentially complicated situation quickly and well. This is typically not the same person calling the shots, and to do both at the same time is usually impossible. In my experience, preparation and media training will always help, and periodic refreshers are a great idea, but there are simply some individuals who are born for this work. There’s a skill to handling incoming questions under stress and within severe time constraints that I’m convinced is innate, not acquired. Crisis-proof tip: your best media spokesperson may not be your CEO.

Learn to apologize.

It sounds like common sense, but it’s striking how often a large organization fails the apology test. United made a bad situation worse with not one, but two attempts at a response that didn’t come close to being appropriate. Among other things, a critical piece of a public mea culpa is accepting responsibility. Some companies stumble at that point because they fear legal repercussions or are warned by their counsel against admitting anything that could make them vulnerable in court. But in the court of public opinion, a true apology is necessary. Contrast United’s clumsy finger-pointing statements with Pepsi’s clear, swift, and sincere-sounding response to its failed ad.

Know your allies.

Part of crisis planning involves identifying brand allies or advocates, both passive and active. These may be customers (like super-users and loyalty members), business partners, or third-party experts like industry analysts or critics. Occasionally there are paid ambassadors who can be tapped to speak on the brand’s behalf in certain situations. More often, these are more neutral parties who may not be able or willing to defend the brand if the worst happens but who can be objective resources for media covering the story or encouraged to comment on social media about their experience with the brand.

Prepare for a comeback.

Believe it or not, a smart response to a negative situation can engender public sympathy and even give a brand currency. A classic example is another airline debacle―the JetBlue “Valentine’s Day massacre” of a decade ago. JetBlue was reeling from the negative press of grounding scores of flights during a snowstorm, affecting well over 100,000 passengers. Part of JetBlue’s response to the meltdown was its Customer Bill of Rights—a coda that was covered nearly as widely as the original flight fiasco.

The rules ensured compensation for a variety of departure and ground delays and outlined compensation for bumped passengers. The airline’s response is now a celebrated Harvard Business School case study, and, according to HBS associate professor Robert Huckman, JetBlue’s brand image was made ultimately better for having weathered the storm. Explains Huckman, “There are many ways for a growing company to improve; going through a crisis is not necessarily the easiest path to take, but it does force an organization to evaluate its operating processes rapidly and decide where it needs to create greater formalization or structure.”