Okay, so we all know about social media now and we all recognize its importance to us. But, did you realize how much pressure social media is putting on you and your ability to get a message out through mainstream media?
It has always been the case that media would beat any large business in getting a story out there. The big companies with their PR and Legal Departments and their “agreement by committee”way of working were always going to be beaten to the punch by an aggressive journalist working for mainstream media. That used to annoy the hell out of them when I was working on crisis management exercises for companies like BHP, Woodside, Shell etc. Now, with smartphones, Twitter, Facebook, blog posts etc that time to refine a message (like a defensive position when the brown stuff hits the fan) has fallen even further.
I saw a quote the other day that Burson-Marsteller did a global study of crisis preparedness and found that of the 826 companies surveyed in the Asia-Pacific region, 75% of those that had experienced a crisis only made their crisis communication plan after the fact. Wow! In my media training workshops I often quote Muhammad Ali who used to say “I run on the road long before I dance under the lights” – prepare a plan beforehand, not while the emergency is underway or afterwards!
We were in the process of preparing a crisis plan for one client when a real crisis erupted. That certainly focused their attention on how important a crisis plan would be to the organisation and our subsequent media training workshop refined that focus.
But back to social media. It robs you of a considered response which makes it even more important that you prepare some considered responses to a range of potential problems. Then it’s only a matter of tweaking those prepared responses on the day in question.
Don’t respond at all, did I hear someone say? Good luck. If you don’t respond to the media they will still do the story – without your input which could be vital for the truth to come out. Of course, Murphy says they will still use speculation or untruths that others have fed them!
Be prepared to tell the truth, apologise if that’s called for and then outline what is being done to ensure this problem never happens again. That’s the way to handle a crisis. Unfortunately, the lawyers have got to a lot of our big companies and told them that opens them up for liabilities. That’s usually what makes a crisis even worse or makes it linger longer than it should. Think John Howard and the apology to the Aborigines!
There was a lot John Howard did right in media relations but I still would have loved him to be in one of our media training workshops. I would have told him to stop speaking the more formal written word and to take Queensland Premier Peter Beattie’s line and fess up when you had to.