Saturday, September 22, 2012

One Critical Factor Missing in Most Crisis Comms Plans

I've been thinking a lot about a company's responsibility to communicate in a crisis especially as it relates to images. Images are everything today. In fact, Bob Lisbonne wrote a guest post for TechCrunch about the Imagesphere and two stats jumped out at me.
"People post more than 300 million photos a day to Facebook alone, and 70% of all actions on social media involve images." -Bob Lisbonne
Just look at the rise of the social site Pinterest where the only thing on the site are visuals. Pinterest hit 10 million monthly unique visitors faster than any independent website in history. We love taking pictures and we love sharing pictures.

Most crisis plans don't provide for a process for gathering, clearing and disseminating "official" company images during adverse events. Your next crisis, like it or not, will be visual. This is the new reality.

I'm the naked King of the World!
Earlier this summer an incident in Scottsdale, AZ involved a naked carjacker. Plenty of photos surfaced from people who were in the area at the time. It's the classic "citizen-journalist" story. This story is made for people who carry smartphones. Right now in the US, there are more than 110 million smartphones. Seriously, if you've got a camera in your pocket how do you not snap and post a pic of the naked car jacker?

That's how images come out during a crisis. Regular people who witness the event, employees who work where the event happens and even emergency response personnel are the sources of the first images of a crisis. There is a bedrock tenet of crisis communications that other people will weigh in on your story so you have to get information out to the public quickly. If that logic applies to words, it has to apply to images, too.

Social media means everyone is a publisher today, including your company. You have a timeline for issuing your first statement about an incident, but do you have a timeline for releasing an official image?

Do you have a process for getting that image through approval and onto your website or company Facebook page? Do you have a photographer?

I think about the challenges working with lawyers to get a statement out and I shudder to think what that process will look like when it comes to putting out pictures of something that has gone wrong. This has to be worked out in advance.

What needs to be in your photo policy?

1) Clear standards to maintain the credibility of the imagery.
People are already skeptical of companies during a crisis and an altered image will be called out quickly. Just ask Nokia. The company used images and video to show how awesome it's new smartphone is for taking pictures and videos. Except the images and videos weren't taken by the new smartphone. The Associated Press has a pretty clear photo policy: "The content of a photograph will NEVER be changed or manipulated in any way."

2) If a photo or video is altered in anyway, post how it was altered.
Most of the policies I looked at allowed for alterations that were common when photos were developed in darkrooms. Cropping seems to be acceptable as does burning (darkening) and dodging (lightening). The goal is to preserve the authenticity of the image.

A client asked me about using Instagram given the popularity of the photo sharing app. I said no. A crisis requires trust and credibility and an app designed to change the look and feel of a photo isn't going to help in a crisis. I just don't see an upside for a company in making the big disaster look like vacation photos from the 1970s.

There's a lot to sort out here and communicators need to think this through. Unlike the guy on top of the car above, we don't want to be caught with our pants down.

Bill Salvin