What exactly is it about?
Communicate in a Crisis (2019) examines how brands may communicate sensitively and effectively during a crisis. Author Kate Hartley discusses why consumers have such deep emotional attachments to businesses and why social media is a danger to them. She also offers advice on how to implement a crisis communication strategy.
Kate Hartley has over 25 years of experience in public relations, reputation management, and crisis communications. She is one of the co-founders of Pompeo, a company that trains businesses how to deal with internet catastrophes.
Genuine and transparent brands establish deep ties with consumers:
Let’s start with a story about a disgruntled customer.
Ashley is an environmental activist from Florida. Ashley needed a new automobile a few years ago, but it couldn’t just be any car. She had to drive in an ecologically friendly automobile if she was going to drive at all. As a consequence, she decided to go with a Volkswagen. The corporation has a reputation for being environmentally responsible. What could possibly go wrong?
Ashley was content with her purchase until a controversy broke out. Volkswagen had inflated the quantity of carbon dioxide their cars released into the atmosphere. The genuine amount was far greater than the corporation’s first estimate.
Ashley believed the brand she had worked so hard to promote had betrayed her. As a consequence, she turned to social media to vent her frustrations.
The important idea is that real and transparent brands develop strong ties with their customers.
Consumers and brands have a strong connection in today’s world. We create an emotional attachment with a product or service that we like. We swear our devotion to them in exchange for the same.
These are known as passion brands, and they are ones that connect with us for whatever reason. We’re devoted to a brand for the rest of our life once we’ve been addicted to it. For example, attempting to convince a Mac user to switch to a PC would almost certainly fail horribly.
This is due to the fact that brands are an important part of our social identity. They make us feel smart or stylish, or they may represent a subject that we care about, such as environmental protection. Consider why you bought your favorite pair of sneakers: you’re undoubtedly a fan of the brand’s ethos and like the feeling of being associated with something great.
The problem is that the brands we support have the capacity to let us down. Facebook is an excellent example of this, since many of us utilize it to keep our private discussions, memories, and photographs secret.
In 2018, the social media giant broke the trust of its users by sharing their personal data with Cambridge Analytica without their permission. Users were furious, to say the least. According to a 2018 study performed by Axios and SurveyMonkey, one out of every five individuals in the UK terminated their account as soon as the scandal erupted.
Every brand will be confronted with a crisis at some time, and it must be ready to react. We’ll look at this in more detail in the paragraphs that follow.
Customers might be enraged by brands in a number of ways:
In 2015, American author Harper Lee released a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. Set a Watchman was the title given to it by her.
Fans were overjoyed at first. After reading the novel, they noticed one big difference: Lee had changed the primary character and hero, Atticus Finch, from a civil rights activist to a racist.
Lee’s fans were inconsolably disappointed. Atticus has been an icon of the civil rights struggle for a long time. It was disappointing to discover that he had shortcomings. Fans who felt they had been duped publicly reprimanded Lee and even questioned her mental health.
Authors have the ability to outrage their readers, and marketers have the ability to enrage their clients.
The key conclusion is that marketers may incite consumer rage in a variety of ways.
Brands produce a set of values that appeal to individuals profoundly, according to Daniel Karlsson and Lucas Rodriguez of Umea University in Sweden. When companies act in ways that contradict these beliefs, customers take it personally.
That’s why, when fans of To Kill a Mockingbird learned that their beloved protagonist was a bigot, they felt cheated – as if something had been stolen away from them.
Another approach for firms to incite outrage is to mess up a commonly used service. In the United Kingdom, for example, numerous train companies unexpectedly changed their timetables in 2018. As a consequence, services were often rescheduled or canceled, sometimes for weeks.
There was a considerable backlash against this. Passengers who were dissatisfied with the service turned to social media to post photographs of overcrowded trains and people vying for space at congested stations. The event made front-page news for weeks thereafter. So, what occurred that this became such a big story?
The agony of being late for a flight, on the other hand, is something that everyone can understand. Trying to get to and from work while trains aren’t running is something that every commuter has experienced at some time.
More importantly, the narrative was captivating. The culprit was Southern Rail, and the general public was at the mercy of a powerful company. People want a good debate, and public relations professionals should be aware of this.
Sharing our anger with others, like the brands we wear, may be a method of sharing a sense of identity. Consumers now have all of the tools they need to openly voice their unhappiness with businesses thanks to the rise of social media. They aren’t going to give up until they have achieved victory.
Brands may be brought down by consumers via social media:
A few years back, the author had a horrible internet encounter.
She’d written a blog post on a Christmas advertisement made by John Lewis, a major UK shop. The commercial portrayed a dog left outdoors in a kennel surrounded by snow while its owners stayed inside.
Animal rights advocates were outraged, accusing the shop of encouraging cruelty to animals. Many of them turned to social media, forming a Facebook advocacy group in the process. This generated enough attention in the media for John Lewis to agree to reshoot the ad’s finale.
The demonstrators, on the other hand, did not stop there. They rapidly pounced on anybody who looked to be in favor of the advertisement, such as the author. Her blog article was about the ability of a tiny group of activists to disrupt a global enterprise, not about whether the dog should have been outdoors.
Regardless, the author was publicly harassed online: her personal information was shared on a campaign group, and she got terrible remarks from a large number of strangers.
In the digital era, consumers may increasingly influence a company’s conduct. Many individuals make it their duty to oust clumsy brands that have deceived them.
This is due in part to the ease with which customers may air their grievances on social media. When consumers are angered by a company’s actions, they may turn to social media sites like Facebook or Twitter to vent their frustrations to the rest of the world.
This isn’t always good news for brands: when they make a mistake, they’re held responsible in front of the public, risking their image being permanently damaged.
Today’s enterprises, as the author points out, are exposed to unprecedented levels of customer scrutiny. And they are held accountable for every action they do, whether good or bad. Do you remember Ashley’s Volkswagen adventure? She held the firm to a high ethical standard and couldn’t simply let it go when they were caught lying.
There is no such thing as a perfect company. You’ll have to deal with customer reaction at some time, which is why being prepared is so important. In the following paragraphs, we’ll look at how companies may put together a communications strategy to use in the event of a crisis.
The first step in crisis communication preparation is to define what a “crisis” implies for your brand:
What exactly do you mean by “crisis”?
This is a problem that every business should think about. Although it may seem self-evident, you must first identify that you are in a crisis before putting your crisis plan into action.
The primary takeaway is that the first step in crisis communication plan is to define what a “crisis” means for your company.
One definition of a crisis for a company, according to Jonathan Hemus, a crisis management expert, is anything that prohibits you from performing your principal business.
In the United Kingdom, for example, KFC — a fried chicken fast-food business – ran out of chicken in 2018… Yes, it is correct.
Some may claim that there was no crisis at all. Although some guests may have had to seek other lodging, no one was hurt. If, on the other hand, your primary business is selling chicken and you can’t get enough of it, you’re in for a disaster.
So, how can you know whether your company is in trouble?
The difference between an issue and a full-fledged disaster may be determined using one approach. If we invert Hemus’ statement, we may assume that problems are things that don’t affect your company’s capacity to operate; they’re simply something you have to handle as part of your day-to-day operations.
Some businesses, for example, claim to be in a “permanent state of crisis,” in which they are always trying to solve problems. However, they are dealing with difficulties that are so regular that they have become mundane. These challenges are significant, yet they do not preclude us from functioning.
Naturally, different organizations will perceive a crisis in different ways. That’s why it’s so important to come up with your own set of criteria for recognizing whether you’re in a crisis.
An injury, a danger to public safety, or an occurrence that might result in financial loss or brand harm could all be deemed crisis situations for your business. Other elements may be more intimately tied to your company’s beliefs. If animal components are detected in a vegan cheese brand, for example, it is more likely to be a crisis than a problem.
So, the next time you’re faced with a potentially disastrous situation, take a minute to think about your alternatives. You’re unlikely to experience a catastrophic calamity unless there’s a public emergency or a danger to your image or finances.
It’s vital for your brand’s survival to have a strategy in place in the event of a crisis:
Businesses cannot afford to disregard the dangers presented by digital threats in today’s society.
In May 2017, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) suffered a significant cybersecurity compromise. The organization’s information technology system was compromised, and it was utilized by hospitals and medical clinics throughout the nation. Money was also important to the crooks in order to re-establish the system.
On the first day of the crisis, four NHS facilities were attacked. A week later, almost 600 individuals had been injured.
The disaster might have been prevented if the NHS had been adequately prepared, according to a National Report Office audit. If they had maintained their IT infrastructure and updated their security software, the system would not have been as vulnerable to hackers.
The most important takeaway is that having a crisis plan is key to your brand’s survival.
Although it is difficult to predict when or where a crisis may occur, businesses must be prepared. So, let’s have a look at how you may go about doing this.
The first step in creating a pre-crisis strategy is to choose your crisis team. There should be representatives from all business divisions present, including HR, legal, compliance, risk, and IT. Teams from PR and marketing should also be included, since they will be in charge of alerting your external audience about the problem.
Make certain that everyone’s roles are well-defined. You’ll need to know who has the power to trigger a crisis plan and who makes the final choices.
Second, have a discussion with your staff about every scenario that might hurt your company’s image. Sort the options into two groups: threat level and type.
For example, a data breach that impacts just a few individuals and does not reveal any financial information may be classed as Stage 1: minimal danger. A breach that exposes the financial information of thousands of customers, on the other hand, may be classified as Stage 4: a high-risk situation.
Finally, determine the appropriate degree of reaction for each danger category. In certain circumstances, you may not even be required to intervene. However, keeping a close watch on a situation is necessary so that you can interfere if things get out of hand.
As a consequence, mitigating the effects of a crisis is all about preparation. Businesses must respond quickly, be aware of their surroundings, and be prepared to act when required.
In the event of a crisis, brands must act quickly and effectively:
In May of 2017, British Airways ran into problems.
Hundreds of families flew on holiday over the half-term break, and the airline’s computer systems failed. As a consequence, 1,000 flights were canceled, and 75,000 vacation plans were thrown off.
In response to multiple customers’ requests for an explanation, the airline released a cryptic message. It was revealed that their IT systems had failed owing to a power outage at their UK data center, and that an investigation was underway to find out precisely what had occurred.
British Airways, on the other hand, received a response from the energy company in control of the local power grid.
British Airways committed two fundamental mistakes in this case. To begin with, the airline misrepresented the reality by hurrying to respond: they were just afraid and blamed the local power grid.
Second, the airline failed to explain the situation to its customers clearly. As a consequence, news outlets started to fill in the blanks.
The system breakdown was triggered by a British Airways IT worker accidentally cutting off the power supply, according to an article published by the Times immediately after the disaster. Was this the situation? What will happen is anyone’s guess. However, this just contributed to the uncertainty.
Consumers utilize social media to express their concerns during a crisis, as you learned in the previous paragraph. As a consequence, businesses in distress are regularly besieged with angry consumer messages.
Knowing how to deal with a large number of online responses is an essential part of crisis management. You should, for example, publish frequent updates on what you’re doing to solve the issue towards the top of your social media page and website. This way, people won’t have to come to you for information.
When responding to direct queries, it’s a good idea to prioritize the ones you respond to first by significance. Also, have a few boilerplate replies ready. You may use this template to respond more rapidly if many individuals ask the same question at the same time.
Is there anything more I can say? Make sure you have all of your information in order. Consider British Airways: they might have averted a lot of issues if they had waited to convey correct information instead of responding quickly.
In a crisis, accurate communication is essential for restoring trust:
In 2018, the author attended a seminar for communications directors. There was a talk by Kate Adie, a well-known journalist and novelist.
Adie has covered some of the twentieth century’s most major global news events. She reported from Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, and she brought the news of the Iranian Embassy siege in London to our television screens in 1980.
During her speech at the conference, Adie explored how the environment in which news breaks has changed. Because of the advent of social media and false news, information gets warped and lies are easily spread. As a consequence, the capacity of journalists to communicate facts is more important than ever.
Journalists, like all communicators, must pay attention to the facts. Brands must communicate simply and correctly if they want to maintain their audience’s confidence during and after a crisis. “The sincerity is appreciated by the audience,” Adie explains.
Adie follows four journalistic principles that apply to brand storytelling as well.
Communication is critical in a crisis. Getting to the narrative, discovering the facts, confirming the facts, and publishing the facts are the four stages. Let’s take a closer look at each one separately.
First and foremost, let’s get down to business with the tale. In a crisis, don’t depend on other sources for information. Identify the cause of the issue and communicate with others who are impacted. To get your facts straight, it would be great if you observed what’s happening on firsthand.
After that, collect data. Emotions are high during a crisis, and stories may spread as people attempt to figure out what’s going on. All of it should be removed, and brands should search for correct facts to reflect what occurred.
After that, double-check your information. Before speaking with your audience, please make sure you’re 100 percent confident what you’re saying is accurate. You will lose your audience’s confidence and trust if you go public with something you thought to be true but subsequently find to be false.
Finally, state the facts in basic, straightforward ways to prevent misconceptions. This is particularly true for those who are in charge of a brand. Telling the truth straight is crucial to maintaining a strong customer connection, as we’ll see in the following paragraph.
Leaders should negotiate a crisis with clarity, empathy, and decisiveness:
After becoming Prime Minister in 1940, Winston Churchill remarked in the House of Commons. He said that his goal was to unite the British people and win the Second World War.
Churchill defined a clear aim for the nation to achieve, as well as a road plan for getting there. Setting a strategic aim, according to crisis expert Jonathan Hemus, is something that all company leaders should do at the start of a crisis.
So, what is the most effective strategy for leaders to articulate their strategic intent? As a starting point, consider what things will look like six months from now. Will your stakeholders be satisfied with your response to the crisis?
It may be good to state your strategy goal and intended result in plain, uncomplicated terms. This will assist you and your team in focusing on a single objective.
If you’re a restaurant owner who has had to shut due to a flood, for example, your strategic aim could be to maintain your customers’ loyalty and business in the long term. As a consequence, every move you and your employees do will be focused towards retaining the loyalty of those customers.
Another crucial aspect of good leadership is empathy. When things go wrong, leaders should address their audience as individuals. Speaking in a sympathetic, conversational tone and avoiding jargon and business terms are all part of this.
Knowing when to apologize is another aspect of displaying empathy. Nick Varney, the CEO of UK amusement park Alton Towers, did just that when his firm was held responsible for an accident.
In 2015, the roller coaster Smiler was demolished. Sixteen people were injured, and two adolescent girls had their legs amputated. A year later, Alton Towers was fined £5 million.
Varney took a personal approach to the catastrophe right once, expressing his sorrow and compassion. He apologized to everyone who had been injured and acknowledged full responsibility for the catastrophe. He also established a plan to prevent something similar from happening again.
As a leader, you will set the tone for your company’s response to a crisis. It’s important to remain human while making wise and strategic judgments.