Crisis blogs

It is imperative to respond to a PR crisis as quickly as possible. This means operating inside the news cycle, and not having to wait on your IT department to update your website with crucial communications.

Given the negative, cynical tendencies of mainstream media, the blogosphere can offer an alternative, more positive viewpoint of a crisis. Alice Marshall addressed this in commenting on Blogging in a Crisis for the Global PR Blog Week:

If the traditional media is negative, there is at least the possibility to get a completely different spin going in [the] blogosphere. Indeed that is what happened when the White House went after the Dixie Chicks. Traditional media were very critical of the Dixie Chicks’ pubic criticism of Bush, but [the] blogosphere became their champions, linking to Amazon sales of their CD, and keeping it on the best-selling album list for weeks.

The blog’s role in crisis communications is:

  1. to disseminate the facts, staying ahead of the news cycle
  2. to project a company’s message
  3. and to combat error and quash rumours

Risk communication is putting greater emphasis on transparency, information sharing, honest consultation and accountability. All four can be achieved and supported by a blog, which apart from these attributes also provides speed, enormous reach to multiple audiences, credibility, and ease of use. The latter means flexibility and information presented by individuals, using their own names, which gives a human face to the organisation. The most important assumption here is that any information is better than none from the point of view of the public/audience.

We call this stuck on the Tube/subway syndrome:

A Tube train stops suddenly in the tunnel, for no reason that passengers can discern.

Scenario A: No announcement is made, the train moves within two minutes but in that time the passengers have grown restless and are annoyed.

Scenario B: The driver immediately communicates with the passengers – even when he does not know why and how long it will be before the train moves again. He keeps them informed and engaged until he does have something to tell them. It may take the train longer than two minutes to move, but the level of annoyance will be much lower than in the previous scenario. The communication by the driver has diffused and lowered the customers’ tension.

A company cannot remain silent and communication is always necessary. Not showing up for the conversation does not count. According to Corello, the seven cardinal rules of effective risk communication are

1. involve the public as a legitimate partner
2. plan and evaluate your efforts
3. listen to specific concerns
4. be honest, frank and open
5. collaborate with other credible sources
6. meet needs of the media
7. speak clearly

Blogging as a continuous record of facts and corrections of errors in near real-time is valuable. In crisis management, a blog is not a journal of an indiviudal but a record of a company’s management of crisis. The problem in crisis is getting out facts – not opinions – and stating them as quickly and accurately as possible. Quashing rumours is also essential. Such crisis blogging should be done by one person directly reporting to the CEO, who should verify all the facts as they come in. Everything should be approved and no individuality should be evident from the blog. The individual blogging is there to provide a human face, not his opinions, as any information provided by the company in a crisis may be shifted by lawyers and other hostile members of the company’s audience afterwards.

Pre-crisis planning is now an even bigger part of corporate governance requirements as is an ongoing risk and threats assessment. A company may choose to have a crisis blog as one of the tools for crisis management. It may choose to use the blog only in a crisis, ready with the domain and with relevant training for the employee in charge of risk communication. Alternatively, they can use an existing blog provided that they have one. An ongoing company blog would have the advantage of an existing audience and make the reach of the company in times of crisis that much more effective. Either way, a website is too slow and does not enable fast, convenient and targeted linking, as well as the ease of use that blogs are known for.

Perhaps the most important part of real-time crisis management is for a company to stay ahead of the news cycle. If the company can’t get the 5Ws (who, what, when, where, why) out before the news media does, it will forever be battling with rumours and corrections. Fast and competent communication will give the company in crisis the chance to add detail and slow speculation. The company can become the leader of the news on the crisis (as it should be) and its communications instead of becoming a flustered, sweating and evasive victim of the hounding media.

Examples: Blogging in a Crisis, the Nevada newspaper wildfire blog