Recently I was asked to run a webinar about crisis communication and how to approach it in the modern era. It was a great way for me to focus my mind on the things I do when faced with an emergency or critical situation. Some of the elements are straightforward, making sure you start communicating and continue right throughout the crisis and even when it has been concluded. But in the digital era there are some aspects that have definitely changed.
Internal communication is now even more important. Your staff need to understand what has happened and what can be said about it. They need to have access to regular updates and know how they can provide help or answer queries about the crisis. As most employees are now using social media if they are kept in the dark they will speculate and create further complications to handling a crisis.
The other issue that has become more challenging for communicators is the negative views that may be circulating in the digital landscape. This may mean abusive or critical comments on social media, hate pages, or blogs that question the organisation or business dealing with the crisis. It was interesting to note that this issue was the one that sparked the most questions after the webinar. the issue of when and if to respond and how to approach it.
For me there can be no formula to use in these circumstances. Every situation should be reviewed and dealt with taking account of the unique issues. I would be concerned if there was a process created to address negative postings and it remained static regardless of the changing circumstances. The most important thing when faced with online feedback is to keep a calm head and view comments as objectively as possible. Where people are wrong then you can correct them, but where they are voicing a personal view we have to accept it. If people are being downright abusive then I would not respond but if they are critical then there may be an opportunity to have a sensible and reasoned discussion about what has happened and how it is being managed.
Of course one of the most important things is to be as open and transparent as possible in explaining what has happened, what it means, and what is being done to deal with the situation. With the technology available that provides so many links globally and the ability to instantly update the world if you are not being honest you will be found out.
The bottom line for me is that within every crisis there is an opportunity to take if we are ready to face it head on.