Part I – The Internal Created Crisis
“Bury the story.”
“Put out a good news story.”
“Wait until tomorrow, it will die all on its own.”
Thirty years ago, these were simple ways to deal with a crisis in your organization. Twenty years ago you still acted the same way. Ten years ago, you could maybe get away with it if you didn’t have a major media outlet in your area. Today? Try any of those techniques and you’ll be destroyed. And, it might not even be the traditional media that is carrying the hangman’s noose…it could be your own community members.
It’s generally accepted that crisis communications can kick in when negative things happen which can damage your reputation, bring into question your tactics, or challenge your procedures. No matter what the cause is, the worst thing you can do in the digital era is to try to ignore, spin, or bury the crisis.
With hundreds or even thousands of people watching, investigating, and talking about you, your first and only concern is to try and get ahead of the crisis and be involved in the conversations.
Your paramount concern should be to get it to stop as fast as possible, which means you need to get all the information possible in as short of a period of time as you can. A crisis relies on speed, momentum, and fuel.
Today’s use of social media allows you to gather and monitor vast amounts of information quickly.
You need to slow down the freight train that is coming at you. Use your social voice to let the public know you are aware of the situation, you are looking to find the answers, and you will be providing the facts as they become available. Putting the brakes on even a bit at a time will slow the velocity.
When the crisis hits, start setting up alerts and searches based on the information you have, and who is talking about it. Talk to your people and determine what is factual and what is not. Here is the key to remember – if there is one ounce of truth to what has caused the crisis, then that is what you need to focus on. Kill the rumours by provide the facts and clarify the issues at play. This will remove the momentum.
Tackle the issues head on. This is not the time to try to spin the story or make excuses for whatever has occurred. This is time for concrete facts and humility. “We’re sorry. We’re human. We strive for better and you deserve better.” These three sentences can suck the oxygen out of a fiery room and remove the fuel. Own the situation. Explain what was wrong, why it was wrong, and how you will prevent it from happening in the future. Once you do that, the worst that can happen is people agree with you.
Today’s digital age knows no media cycle. There aren’t any deadlines. A crisis can hit at any time and for any reason from a variety of sources. Dealing with a crisis means you have better have a team ready and in place that can handle the situation around the clock and on a multitude of platforms. Even if you don’t use Reddit
, you better have an awareness of them so that you can – at a minimum – monitor them.
We train and practice all the time for the inherent danger that our career presents. When was the last time your communications team held a tabletop exercise in the handling of a crisis in the communications realm?