I know by know, you’re all sick of the Michael Jackson-based blog posts, and believe me, this isn’t one of them. But, there’s an important lesson here for brands and organizations.
News broke online—and off—of Jackson’s trip to the hospital around 2:30 p.m. CST Thursday, June 25. By 4:26 p.m. CST Jackson was pronounced dead. That’s less than two hours from the 911 call (technically, 2:21 p.m. CST) to the time of death. With the bevy of 24-hour media outlets (again, both online and off), millions of people knew about Jackson’s death within just minutes.
With all these new technologies available and the non-stop news churn, today’s news travels at a whole new speed. Is your company prepared to deal with the ramifications?
For example, what if your CEO passes away tragically in a freak car accident on Thursday evening? In the former world, you may have had a few hours—even overnight—to prepare a statement to address media outlets in the morning. In today’s 140-character news cycle (credit Shel Holtz on that phrase), you now have just minutes.
Or, what if you work for a major retailer. Thursday morning 100-plus customers are taken hostage by gunmen inside one of your stores. How long before word leaks out to the world that someone’s been shot? Again, in the former world, probably a few hours. Today? 5 to 10 minutes. Tops. In fact, someone probably texts or tweets about it from within the store immediately.
The speed of news has transformationally changed the way we approach crisis communications. Just ask Dominos.
No longer do we have hours to connect with key internal stakeholders and senior management to develop key messages. We now have minutes.
No longer do we strictly respond with official press conferences and statements on TV. We now also respond on YouTube, Twitter and other social networks.
And no longer is the CEO the only voice of an organization during a crisis. Employees from all areas of the organization may express their thoughts, opinions and concerns—publicly.
How do you manage this speed-of-light news cycle? Here are a few ways to start thinking differently about your crisis planning:
- Think holistically. Obviously, the traditional channels still matter. But, think about the bigger picture. Do your customers interact with your brand on Facebook? Twitter? Other social spaces? Then, you probably want to think about reaching those customers where they live. Think integration—not silos.
- Train and prepare key employees. Do you have staff who interact online on behalf of the organization? Train them, just as you would senior management, to speak on behalf of the company. In some instances, they may wind up being your first responders before you can start formalizing messages, approaches with senior management. In fact, you could incorporate this into your new media training efforts. Remember, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer most folks trust “someone like them.” Senior management may not always be the most trusted source of information in trying times.
- Make sure legal is on board. One of the biggest challenges during a crisis is frequently getting sign off from the myriad of stakeholders who need to review messages before they’re distributed broadly. In the new 2.0 world (sorry for the cliché), you don’t have that luxury. Which is why it’s critical you have legal on board with the speed at which you need to operate, before a crisis breaks. Have the difficult conversations now—before it’s too late.
- Strategy still trumps technology. Yes, you want to consider new media channels when re-assessing your crisis communications plans. But, at the end of the day, don’t let technology drive our strategy. The technologies are just tools—it’s your strategy that should dictate which tools you use, and when.
- Be human. During trying time, people want sincerity, honesty and real human emotions. Not cold, unfeeling corporate statements. When responding and interacting online, this is even more important. Don’t be afraid to be human. Your customers will respond to it. And remember, acknowledging fault and admitting you were wrong will go a long ways with your customers. People have very short memories. Just ask Dell (remember Dell Hell?)
How else can companies start thinking about their crisis plans differently?
Note: Photo credit or caribb via FlickR Creative Commons