By Anja van den Berg
The dizzying speed of communication today – coupled with the public scepticism it seems to produce – is placing intense pressure on businesses, governments and other institutions to reevaluate their traditional crisis management strategies.
Long gone are the days when print media essentially dictated only two major news cycles in the form of morning and afternoon papers and news programmes. Now, the next crisis can be ignited spontaneously by any of the world’s 3,5 billion internet users.
Organisations now must recognise that brand perception and corporate reputation function more like a real-time global trading floor on which facts are optional and the truth is selective. In today’s on-the-go environment, it’s more difficult than ever to control a message. Unfortunately, experts estimate that fewer than half of all organisations have updated crisis plans that address potential digital issues.
Jim Burke, director of Global Public Relations, believe that many aspects of a crisis response can indeed be planned for in advance. “Institutions that haven’t faced serious crises cannot rest on their good luck.”
According to business communication experts, these are the most important lessons learned about crises communication strategies – and some were learned the hard way:
- Acknowledge the uncomfortable
To really protect their reputation, companies must be willing to act substantively, to deeply analyse their own operations, examine their industry, understand their environment, assess their specific vulnerabilities and take preemptive measures. This approach is not easy to execute, admits Tilden Katz, Managing Director of the Crisis Communications and Issue Management Practice at FTI Consulting. “Yet,” Katz cautions “comprehensive risk management requires participation from all stakeholders and players in a business, and it can be uncomfortable for any organisation to acknowledge potential weaknesses.”
- The public will not wait
The digital age has given more power to the people. The public is no longer satisfied with the news media’s summary of a situation. When a crisis strikes today, people and stakeholders demand to know more about the situation directly from the organisation. They expect authentic answers, two-way engagement and some level of retribution. Many also turn to trusted influencers and pundits to cross-check whether the company is taking the right steps. According to leading research in the field, a company’s reaction during the first 48 hours of a crisis is more crucial now than at any other time in history.
- Employees are your biggest assets in crisis management
Employees are customers, shareholders, and members of the community; thus, their voices carry weight, says William Mohl, a former senior executive in the power industry, and former chairman of the communications advisory committee for the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). “The strategic use of employees as part of a well-orchestrated advocacy programme can be the game changer for a company during a crisis situation. When employees are briefed on the issues, understand the business objectives, and hear about a crisis from the company first, they are better positioned to be a supporter, and help to improve the trust in the community.” The best time to equip employees as advocates is before you need them, not in the midst of a crisis, Mohl adds.
Organisations need to be fully equipped to move fast and be first to get into the online conversation. Businesses need to be agile, to exhibit the ability – and the will – to use all of their channels. They need to measure the conversation and engage influencers to amplify their own voice. A company facing a crisis will know that they are winning when they are telling their own story and when the narrative is not being dictated or sensationalised by a third party.
RockDove Solutions: https://www.rockdovesolutions.com/hubfs/PDFs/The_New_Rules_of_Crisis_Management-2nd_Edition.pdf
RockDove Solutions: https://www.rockdovesolutions.com/blog/the-three-biggest-crisis-management-lessons-from-2018