In 1997, when I was graduating with a degree in communications, information control strategies were taught as part of the methodology to deal with a communication crisis. The term “information control” now seems quaint. Today, a crisis communications strategy must contend with the fact that the internet, and its highly interconnected social communities, makes information move instantaneously. An hour in the pre-internet (or should I say pre-historic) era, is more like a second today. Not answering questions or promptly monitoring and responding to comments from vocal social media followers will fuel a spark and potentially turn it into hard to contain fire.
Beyond the obvious, which is affecting perception to align with your messages, the other important consideration is that mass media is increasingly monitoring social media to make programming and newscast decisions. They want to cover what is important to the public so assignment editors are turning to Twitter, before the wire, to plan the evening news.
Leave an issue unattended or unaddressed and if the affected party is vocal enough they can quickly rally a large number of people to support them. Beyond the negative business repercussions ignoring constituent’s comment/concerns will have, by slowly moving to engage and respond you will run the risk of not being able to affect the message in the eyes of the prying editors and producers looking for news to cover.
So, as you think about creating a crisis communications plan for your client or business force yourself to look for those black swans and develop strategies and messages to address each of those. By looking at those low probability, high consequence events not only will you be in a better position to quickly respond at a social level but, you may help your client/organization to address potential operations issues that may have gone overlooked. Furthermore, having those messages ready to go will enable you to make employees brand ambassadors by having thought through appropriate ways to engage employees in helping you deliver the message. Although employees may not be your primary spokespeople, by their actions and what they choose to focus on, they can help affect perceptions and communicate that the problem has or is being corrected.