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What a week it has been. This is the very first blog post of Originblu’s that is late. Not a good start to 2012, but I promise – my reasons are sound!
Floods prevented my timely communication. Not floods in my inbox (although I did spend a large part of my first week back circumventing a deluge of messages), but floods of a more devastating kind. A cyclone hit Mozambique, causing torrential rains over much of the Kruger National Park, Sabi Sand Reserve, and Hoedspruit areas. The resulting devastation was catastrophic for many.
As the online communications agent for a number of clients in the affected areas, our cogs spun into overdrive and we were catapulted headfirst into three days of non-stop CRISIS COMMUNICATING.
And so we arrive at the topic for this week’s blog post.
How do you react in a crisis? Do you deflect? Or do you tackle your audience head on?
Crisis (CRY-SIS): noun; Any situation that is threatening or could threaten to harm people or property, seriously interrupt business, damage reputation or negatively impact share value’.
Communicating is not something that is only done in time of plenty. It is especially important at times of distress. Silence will not score any brownie points – not in this age of the omnipresent web and social media. If you do not sp”e”ak up, someone else will. And it is not likely that they will sing your praises!
There are a few simple steps, which I believe, outline the way any business should handle a situation of crisis.
- Put the victim (actual or potential) first!
- Establish the spokesperson
- Establish the message
- Establish the mediums
- Communicate consistently
- Follow through on promises made
- BE HONEST!
Put the victim first
Repeat this one a number of times if need be! If you put the victims who stand to be affected by the crisis first, and base your standpoint accordingly, you can’t go wrong. Getting on the defensive is never the way to go. How to lose friends and alienate people? Be defensive.
Establish a primary spokesperson
While no one expects Shakespeare, the company spokesperson should be eloquent, and his or her grammar, impeccable. As releases are often quoted on other third party sites, you don’t want to get caught with an ‘oops’ in your spelling either. Your spokesperson must also be informed, know the company and its policies, and be available 24/7 for the duration of ‘the situation’. This spokesperson essentially becomes the voice box of the company.
Establish the message
What is your company’s standpoint? Establish this upfront, and be firm on all angles that could potentially be directed at the company – especially the negative ones.
It is essential that all stakeholders speak with one voice. Make sure all staff members are in the loop, and that a very clear channel of communication is established for questions that are more difficult to answer.
Establish the mediums
Where will you communicate your message? The most effective channels are social media networks, but do not forget that many people are not yet hooked up to the likes of Facebook and Twitter, and many have been banned from using these platforms during working hours. Some prefer more traditional mediums such as email, while others will automatically head over to your website. Make sure you use all of these platforms to send your message. And if you choose to use Facebook as the preferred medium for your updates (it’s quick, efficient, immediate, and not very labour intensive), then let your audience know where they can find the page with a direct link, as well as providing contact details should they prefer to speak to someone in the know. Telephonic contacts must be fully briefed, and possess good customer relationship skills.
Even if you do not have explosive updates, keep your community informed of any news. This establishes trust and credibility. Don’t sit and bank up all of your updates to go in one big bulk communiqué. Keep updates regular, simple, and to the point. Being pro-active instead of reactive makes things easier for all concerned.
A promise is a promise
Never is this statement more important than at a time of crisis communicating. Do not write anything that that you are not 100% sure you will be able to follow through on. And be specific on what your readers can expect when you are sure. If you say you will follow up within the hour, do so.
Do not ever make empty statements simply to make things easier for yourself or the company. The truth always triumphs at the end of the day – although it may well be the more difficult avenue. It is almost guaranteed that honesty will win. And in fact, many brands have gained favour by being humble, transparent, and 100% truthful – even if it means taking a knock on the chin.
So in this day and age where information is power, make sure you are in the right position to give the right information, in the right places, and at the right time. And never make the false assumption that ‘It will never happen to me….”. Your pants and your ankles could become well acquainted in no time at all.