Nov 3 2008
The reality of business is that crisis happens. Whether it’s cyanide in your medicine, your inability to get airplanes off the ground, or a financial implosion, companies inevitably face difficult, even life threatening situations. Those situations demand crisis management and communications.
I recently had the opportunity to speak to the airline industry vis a vis the National Transportation Safety Board on how social media can impact companies in this scenario (see above presentation). Clearly social media offers a fantastic toolset because it allows direct access to stakeholders. Consider how during times of crisis the American Red Cross uses social media tools to keep both stakeholders and the media informed.
At the same time, the social web can be a lightening form of brand damage or death in a time of crisis. It’s conversational, and companies have a limited scope of meaningful dialogue to offer, especially when something goes wrong. Consider jetblue’s Valentines Day crisis and the beginning of the end for Toshiba’s HD-DVD standard respectively.
See the social web is so open, so uncontrolled that companies with active communities online must communicate. Further, in life-threatening situations it’s even more paramount. Online there is no way to tell if the voice tone, no body language to read, no facial expressions. In the cases of audio or video, you can at least hear voice or see body language (though editing and re-recording can mask this). Then there’s the person to person interaction.
It all equals a very emotional place that requires not only communication, but a company that will listen and react appropriately. Reacting appropriately means not getting caught in the emotions of the moment by either shutting down or over-promising resolution. Acknowledge community frustrations, but company representatives must be factual, prompt and genuine. Otherwise social fire may catch.
Consider the worst case scenario, a plane down over the ocean and no one knows exactly where. How can you promise rescue? Further, given the government’s role in investigations, you can’t even offer deep insights. But you can communicate and interact and answer questions about the families, etc.
It gets back to meaningful dialogue. People want to have a real two-way conversation about the situation. That’s why companies that have high risk scenarios should do everything they can to prepare so when crisis does occur, the teams and tools are in place to best communicate between all parties.
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