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Communication Hurdles To Overcome After A Corporate Disaster

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Imagine your company has experienced its biggest corporate crisis in years. An immediate blow to reputation, professionalism and financing, the long-term effects of disaster can be devastating, and may even spell the end for business.

In crisis situations, communications that recognise and address problems can minimise damage and resolve corporate nightmares, so should be a recovery priority. But remaining calm and communicative is easier said than done: there are many hurdles and actions which businesses must clear to redress the slip of disaster, rather than falling flat on their faces.

Hurdle 1: Remaining accessible and transparentClear communication should be an immediate damage limitations and recuperations response. So stating precisely what went wrong, accepting blame if relevant, heeding comments, and stating remedial procedures (enquiring, hiring and firing) is necessary for companies to remain accessible and approachable. It’s this honesty that reassures consumers, partners and staff, reaffirming their trust and loyalty, and re-establishing reputations. No matter the cause of the problem, or who/what’s to blame, communications must be transparent and above all clear. You don’t want to make matters worse by being misunderstood and causing further offence.

Hurdle 2: Acknowledging the problem and stating the remedy. Investigating exactly what went wrong/completing enquiries takes time, but communicative accessibility (as above) eases backlash. Clearly acknowledging the problem, admitting mistakes, accepting blame and apologising if necessary, in addition to stating reparations actions, proves professionalism. It is especially crucial in the case of legal or criminal crises. Treat all parties involved with respect and empathy, and when relevant, offer compensation to those eligible.

Hurdle 3: Knowing when to communicate, and what to say. The way a disaster’s handled depends on the nature of the problem. In most cases it’s wise to release a corporate statement/response addressing issues so the company account is on record. But knowing when not to communicate, containing information and judging when to respond to errors is just as important as honesty and accessibility. Before communicating at all, find out how much is known and what information should actually be broadcast. If nothing other than the basics are needed to quash rumour, simply repeat your statement of apology, explanation and resolve across multiple channels – it’s crucial it reaches your various audiences, and reaches them consistently.

Hurdle 4: Keeping PR (the media and the news) on-side. Especially linked to accessibility and transparency, media relations have the power to improve or worsen high profile corporate disasters. If well handled, positive media cooperation can help communicate official statements, circumvent hostility, and depending on the nature of the crisis may reaffirm reputations and professionalism in the public eye. To proactively communicate with the media, respond quickly, always give a  statement to prevent speculation (refusal to speak can be additionally damaging), don’t release more information than you need, and don’t be afraid to give simple ‘yes/no’ answers. If possible, find third party allies to support your statements and your media messages.

Lastly, dealing with the communications breakdown of a corporate crisis – from handling publicity to responding to multi-channel backlash (social media may be your biggest hurdle yet) – will not be an easy task. But through maintaining honest connectivity from start to end (and notifying closure and thanks to all involved after resolution), recovery and prevention of future error can be achieved and communicated with minimal damage.

Alastair is a writer and business blogger. He wrote this article for Communicaid a culture and business communication skills consultancy, which offers business english courses as part of its services.

 

 

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Social Media Marketing in Times of Tragedy

Boston-BombingBy: Marsha Friedman

If you’re using social media for marketing, what should you say following a tragedy like the deadly blasts at the Boston Marathon on April 15?

The horrific elementary school shootings in Newtown, Conn.?

The October storm that took lives and devastated communities across the Northeast?

Sometimes, nothing at all.

The age of digital marketing brings with it new challenges, including how to respond during a national tragedy. Remember, as recently as Sept. 11, 2001, we had no MySpace, much less Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. Except for email, no vehicle for delivering instantaneous marketing messages existed. After 9/11, one of the most painful days in American memory, most of us had time to pause, reflect and put on hold print, radio and TV marketing campaigns that might be viewed as inappropriate or offensive.

In recent months, there has been lively debate on this topic in the marketing community, including how and when to tie – or not to tie — a marketing message into the news of the day, a  widely used strategy.

Gaffes can occur with the most innocent of intentions in any media content, marketing or not. Earlier in April, a new episode of the musical comedy “Glee” upset and angered parents in Newtown, Conn., because the plot featured a student bringing a gun to school, where it accidentally discharges.

“A lot of people were upset about it and that I feel horrible about,” Jane Lynch, one of the stars, told Access Hollywood Live days later. “If we added to anybody’s pain, that’s just certainly not what any of us wanted. … We’re always rather topical and rather current.”

Usually, however, simply applying your own sense of decency and good taste can help you avoid a blunder. Consider American Apparel’s notorious “Hurricane Sandy Sale – in case you’re bored during the storm,” advertised as tens of thousands of people endured freezing temperatures without power. Most of us wouldn’t have even considered such a ploy!

Here are a couple more suggestions for do’s and don’ts:

• If you use automated posts scheduled through a site such as HootSuite, turn them off immediately. If people don’t find them insensitive and uncaring or silly, they’ll likely conclude your messages come from a robot – not a real person – which is just as bad.

 Can you be helpful? Hours after the blasts in Boston, with cell phone service out in the city and family and friends desperately trying to connect with loved ones, Google.org launched “Person Finder: Boston Marathon Explosions.” There, individuals and organizations could share information about the status of marathon participants and spectators for those trying to find them.

If your community has suffered a tragic event, perhaps you have helpful information to share. Here in Florida, which is affected by hurricanes, people use social media to help evacuees and their pets find shelter, and to alert others to danger, such as downed power lines. Depending on your area of expertise, you may be able to provide more general information or commentary. For instance, an educator can share tips for answering children’s questions about the event. Philanthropists might comment on those selflessly step up to help.

 Of course, social media is also about reactions and, for many, that’s a sincere expression of sympathy for and unity with those affected.

If you want to post something and you’re unsure about what to say, take a look at what businesses and other brands are sharing, and how online users are reacting. You may decide to just say nothing for a day or two, or whatever time seems reasonable given the nature of the event.

Sometimes, saying nothing at all speaks volumes.

About Marsha Friedman

Marsha Friedman is a 23-year veteran of the public relations industry. She is the CEO of EMSI Public Relations (www.emsincorporated.com), a national firm that provides PR strategy and publicity services to corporations, entertainers, authors and professional firms. Marsha is the author of Celebritize Yourself and she can also be heard weekly on her Blog Talk Radio Show, EMSI’s PR Insider every Thursday at 3:00 PM EST. Follow her on Twitter: @marshafriedman.

 

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