Thanks to the Internet, blogs, social networking, and other instantaneous media, adverse news about an organization can now “go viral” with startling speed. Such rapid dissemination of bad news or negative opinion can do more than damage a business’ reputation — it can destroy an organization beyond recovery.
Crisis Communications is a subfield of marketing communications. No matter the size of an organization, its business continuity planning should contain a crisis communications strategy as a principal component. This type of plan supports business continuity by directly addressing any negative media or public reaction arising from a detrimental situation.
Many marketing professionals cite last year’s British Petroleum (BP) Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico as a prime example of poor crisis communications. Confused messages (not to mention inappropriate public statements and actions) by BP leadership failed to inspire confidence in the company’s efforts to deal with the disaster and fueled a perception of uncaring disarray. The consequence was grave damage to years of BP marketing efforts that had positioned the oil corporation as a responsible, environmentally friendly, global citizen.
Media crises do not strike only large companies. Small organizations can also find themselves suddenly thrust onto the local or national stage. Labor disputes, criminal wrongdoing (on or off the job) by employees, workplace accidents and injuries, lawsuits, and inadequate preparation for floods, fires or other disasters can all make the headlines.
More common, a disgruntled employee or customer (or even an unscrupulous competitor) can now post rumors, misinformation or negative reviews of a company online, sparking a viral flare-up that threatens an organization’s good reputation. With so much of the traditional media now aggregating local news and social media for story ideas, the risk to small companies has grown exponentially.
So how can an organization minimize risk? Experts say companies of all sizes should prepare written crisis communications plans based on the principle of “telling it all, telling it fast, and telling the truth.” Key spokespeople from the CEO to the public relations officer should be identified and trained to speak with a unified voice. Their response should be immediate, factual, transparent, empathetic and personal in nature. Moreover, all employees should be instructed on who to inform at the first sign of a crisis.
In addition, to protect themselves against online threats, many companies are learning to task specific employees with regularly monitoring the Web and social media. Responding to negative posts and comments using the same principles mentioned above can go a long way toward preserving an organization’s image.
The bottom line is, now more than ever, businesses need well-trained individuals at all levels who understand and can effectively deal with marketing communications challenges. An affordable online degree program from American Sentinel University in business administration or marketing can help prepare you and make you a valuable and reliable asset to your organization if and when a crisis strikes.