Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Crisis Communications Evolves into Crisis Engagement

It’s clear that Social Media has and will continue to change the way organizations communicate in a crisis.  What’s also clear is that most companies are ill-structured to use Social Media to its best advantage during a crisis.

Social Media changes the standards of response to crises because crises are human events, and Social Media connects humans in powerful ways. Crisis communications is morphing into something much more comprehensive that I'm calling crisis engagement.
For example, most companies try to follow standard response protocols during a crisis. 

One of the most common is that a company's initial release on an adverse event should be on the streets within an hour. That standard came about because that’s about how long it used to take live television to get to the scene of a major crisis. If you were "TV-ready", you could also cover radio and newspapers. Plus, people's expectations were different then. 

In the past, we wanted as many basic facts as we could get, fed to us in a story form with an ending "to be continued". Now, we want (and get) crisis information fact by fact. We don't wait for someone else to put a story together, we begin immediately piecing together our own narrative of what's happened. By the time a company’s "initial" release comes out, the story is well underway.

There's no longer a grace period for companies. They might get a breather after the first wave of news recedes, but event that respite won't last long.  

In my next post I will provide an example of what a crisis-ready PR team looks like in Age of Social Media.  This is important stuff, and now is as good a time as any to get started. 

If you think putting it off is a good idea or you have too much on your schedule, see the Eurostar Crisis. Despite the recommendation of its Social Media agency, Eurostar pushed back into 2010 getting its own name for Twitter. The "Eurostar" handle is registered out of Singapore and the "Eurostar_UK" handle was taken, but unused for some reason. 

Shortly before Christmas, five Eurostar trains ended up trapped in the tunnel under the English Channel stranding thousands of passengers for more than 16 hours. 

Remember, crises rarely take into account your busy schedule.  

Bill Salvin


  1. Bill, you're dead on here.

    Even crisis plans that were updated just two years ago need an overhaul, not just a tweaking, because the time frame has compressed to a singularity.

    The other piece that's changed is the "break glass" mentality. You can't just run with a dark site, and follow the flow chart. If you're going to have a credible voice where those first impressions are formed, you need to develop it organically and nurture it long before you need it.

    Great post.

  2. Ike, thanks for reading. I agree completely with your point about the "break glass" mentality. Look at US Airways, which had a dark site ready to go, but when Flight 1549 ditched into the Hudson, their site had too much traffic and not enough bandwidth to get it up quickly. Fort Hood's Website also went down under the crush of traffic.

    Social media requires a thorough rework of response plans and channels.

    Thanks again for reading.