Crisis communication sure isn’t what it used to be. Certainly, while the basic tenets of crisis communications will always be applicable – tell the truth, don’t speculate, explain what you are doing to fix the problem – the rise of social media requires that it, too, be incorporated into crisis communications. In fact, customers have come to expect it.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs and several other social media channels are a great way to reach customers and create buzz about your products and services. But when your credit card processor has been hacked and customers’ supposedly secure information is at risk, they are apt to respond in a less-than-positive way if your Twitter feed contains information about what’s on sale this weekend – rather than what you are doing to protect their data.
At Cookerly, we advise all our clients to have a crisis communications plan, and are often asked to help clients develop one. While many clients have crisis response and business continuity plans, too often the communications components of those plans focus only on procedure and process. Knowing who is supposed to do what is important of course, especially in the midst of a crisis. But having some idea of what is most likely to cause a crisis at your business, and what messages might be most appropriate in response to different circumstances, is critical.
Today, knowing how you will incorporate social media into your crisis communications is also critical. Will your Twitter feed provide information – or will you use Twitter to direct customers to your website to get information? Who will monitor your Facebook page, and how will you use Facebook to engage customers in the crisis response? Do have draft scripts prepared for your CEO so videos explaining the situation and what you are doing can be quickly uploaded to YouTube?
The bottom line is, to the extent that new media channels have allowed you to market your business in new ways, those channels also must be part of your crisis communications.
I came across this story this morning and found it interesting, especially the tweets at the end. When the storms that swept across the mid-Atlantic this weekend knocked out one of Amazon’s cloud servers, many of the companies affected used Twitter to keep customers in the loop.
Notice that Netflix apologized for the outage and thanked customers for their patience. Heroku provided a link to its website when customers could get status updates. Pinterest provided a very specific time that it hoped its service would be back online, but – importantly – did not promise customers it would (a good strategy since the actual time the problem would be fixed was likely beyond its control). Good communications such as these tweets are just good PR – they acknowledge customer frustration, tell them where to get more information, and thank them for their patience. It’s how savvy businesses keep a bad situation from becoming a public relations crisis.