Crisis? Stop the accident and communicate wisely
I have always thought that if I had to explain my take on crisis communication, I would start with the fact that the first point in a communication crisis is the same as in first aid:
Stop the accident.
For the first aid course last weekend, I was taught that the first point in first aid has recently been changed to “establish safety” instead of “Stop the accident”. Simply because too many people were injured in an attempt to “stop” the accident!
And in terms of communication, I agree: You can break your neck in an attempt to stop the accident if you are not aware of where you put your feet. A classic, suicidal mistake is not communicating.
But how do you “eastablish safety” during a crisis in the company?
Step 1: “Establish safety”
Fix the problem.
Make sure there is no problem.
You know, truly, genuinely, for real.
If someone in the organization has done something wrong, something unethical or criminal – or delivered far below what one might expect, to a customer who then complains – if you are in any way responsible for and in control over what triggers the problem, then start fixing it by all available means.
If it is something external that you are not responsible for or in control of – such as if one of your suppliers is using child labor or your law firm has looted a state through a dividend tax scam, then consider whether you should change supplier.
Remember that your communication is always based on your actions and values. If you smear lipstick on a pig, it rubs it off after a short time.
You can gain crucial, life saving “points” by communicating credibly, clearly, convincingly, with authority. And you will lose by doing the opposite – letting yourself be driven around in the manège by aggressive critics and journalists who want a conflict story.
If a company has ended up in the gallows, the public can remember it long after, even if corrected.
Step 1.9: Important stakeholders
Communicate to your most important stakeholders. The main shareholder, the major customers, the sole supplier. They should not read about the problem in the press before they hear from you.
Step 2: Communicate wisely
Once you have started the clean-up – established safety – you can start communicating. In principle, this can happen immediately if you discover the problem.
(NB: See modification on SoMe crises below)
Tell publicly what you do.
You can do it gradually while you investigate the extent of the problem. Accept that during a period of crisis you have a bad image. It can disappear as things work out. Be accommodating and think before you communicate.
Say sorry if an apology is relevant.
Meet critics: Do not deny that something has happened and don’t blame others if you yourself have a bit of responsibility for it happening. Just don’t.
But… ehm… can’t we just simply stop talking about it?
Today, the problem is that with the easy access to media – especially social media – and electronic communication, everything escapes, sooner or later. And then you are faced with a new credibility problem: That you have lied – and when will you lie again?
So take the bull by the horns and lay things out as they are.
Step 0: Preparation
How comprehensive is a crisis preparedness to be?
It depends on how seriously you may be injured and what the probability for that is.
How expensive is it if the largest customer finds out that you have had a large data leak? Can any scenarios threaten the existence of the company? And what is the value of insuring against annihilation?
Think through possible crisis scenarios and their consequences, and make an action plan. It doesn’t have to be very complicated, but the plan is important to have ready.
How to prepare the company’s crisis preparedness
Involve all employees – they may have bids for risks that you have overlooked in management.
1) Prepare a clear division of roles:
– Who is the spokesperson, who assists. If necessary, train the spokesperson in media management.
– Who should be involved in decisions about what the crisis communication should contain.
2) Have a press kit ready:
You do not have time to update it during a crisis, so make sure you have an updated fact-based press kit (it is NOT the latest written sales speech, but a (web) page with facts such as addresses and phone numbers, main activities, press contact person, management & board, owners, link to photos, etc.).
3) Have a media list ready:
– Which media do you need to get hold of? The list of journalists and their possible contact info must be updated regularly.
And a valuable bonus tip:
4) Monitor the media:
– Set up searches on services like Talkwalker. Also establish surveillance on social media. Check the reports daily for “hits” that you need to follow up on.
Step 2019: SoMe crises – “Push” or “Pull”?
Has there been a negative post on Facebook?
Initially: Breathe. Perhaps give an answer according to the “Pull” / “Press” philosophy by Katrine Emme Thielke, described below.
“Pressure” covers a potentially conflict-escalating response: teaching with three tons of facts, telling people (or ‘the idiot !!!’) that they are wrong, and that you yourself are flawless, and so on.
It can be the start of a fight in the comment track, which can attract a lot of bad attention. You should avoid using it.
Instead of “Push” you can resort to “Pull”.
“Pull” is the welcoming and appreciative strategy: go with the user instead of against, ask about the user’s experience, show understanding, gradually help the user to solve the problem and ask if the users have any suggestions on how you can do better yourself.
“Pull” communication can thoroughly dismantle the discussion before it becomes a fight – and the user may end up becoming an ambassador because he or she was met with sincere interest.
Ambassador? Yes, I have tried it with an incipient shitstorm once – I went into direct dialogue on Messenger, clarified some facts, told what was the background and what we did. The negative publicity about our company was taken down and a laudatory mention was posted instead.Write me for a review of that case.
NB: If required, ask (nicely) for a proper tone – you should never accept foul language or being scolded. YOU control your Facebook page and can set clear rules for what you want to tolerate. It can easily be done directly, objectively and kindly – and feel free to use smileys.
I can recommend reading Katrine Emme Thielke’s blog post – and her book – on social media communication.
A result of her work with analyzing commentary tracks in e.g. DSB was a framework she calls “Press & Pull Communication”.
Do you want sparring about crisis preparedness, or are you in the middle of a shitstorm?
write to Jakob & Mark .
More PR & communication advice
Shitstorms and relationships: 5 tips for crisis communication
8 tips that attract the best employees
SoMe Guide: Getting Extra Value Out of Press Releases
Media stakeholders: How do you activate them?