“No Comment” is No Longer Enough

3547780062_7e27a4454aAll organizations are susceptible to crises. If the company is serving a community there are very few ways, if any, to get out of being subjected to situations involving lawsuits, accusations of bad behavior, and other volatile situations that stakeholders and the media that serves them often focus on. Jonathan Bernstein, a crisis management guru, believes: “The cheapest way to turn experiences into future profits is to learn from others’ mistakes.” With that in mind, I will outline how to deal with crises. Below are what Bernstein outlines as “What NOT to do when your organization is faced with a crisis.”

If you want your crisis to flourish, you should

  • Say nothing and do nothing for as long as possible.
  • Hope that no one hears about it.
  • Assume you will have time to react.
  • Treat the media like the enemy.
  • React to the situation.
  • Use a lot of jargon.
  • Ignore your stakeholders.
  • Address just the issues and ignore feelings.
  • Make only written statements.

If you do the above actions, you can guarantee that when a crisis arises it will flourish. As cheesy and over-used as it may seem, it’s better to be safe than sorry. To prevent and diminish crises,  remember the three Rs: research, response, recovery. Adapted from Kami Huyse’s presentation onCrisis Communication: The Savvy Communicator”

Research: Use resources to gather accurate info quickly: Never speculate. Know every possible crisis that could arise, have a set plan, and know all of the ins and outs of your organization’s operations. Anything can blow up, so it is important to be prepared for all possible situations.

  • Relationship building: Know your stakeholders to gain their trust and approval.
  • Emergency personnel: Create a team that consists of a spokesperson, a phone crew, a researcher, a writer, a business continuity, a decision maker, and if applicable, legal council.
  • Notification procedures: When a crisis emerges know who you are going to notify, the personnel team, the board of directors, employees, and any other stakeholders.
  • Communication procedures: Know what platform to implement the strategy, who and what is your priority and know the company policies or have the manual on hand.
  • Practice: Run through possible crisis situations to be as prepared as possible.

Appoint a specific spokesperson who can demonstrate interest and authenticity. Also, the spokesperson needs to be responsive, proactive, and open to criticism. This person should only provide the media with pre-approved statements. Remember that the best thing the spokesperson can do is be accurate, and it’s fine to reply to reporters with the responses, “I don’t want to speculate. I will find out and get back to you once I know more information.”

Response: Once the crisis hits, go through the steps created during the research stage and implement them.

  • Emergency Notification: Call everyone who needs to be involved and “in the know.”
  • Gather Information: Find out every bit of information about the crisis and ways to best relay the info to the public.
  • Releasing information: Prep the spokesperson so they can go on air as soon as possible. The earlier a company explains the problem the more likely it is that people will forgive and understand the situation in your favor.
  • Stages of the crisis: The steps are from Kami Huyse’s Crisis Management: The Four Emotional Stages of Disaster.”

1. Heroic Phase: This phase usually occurs directly after the crisis, when “heroic” actions are taken to help people (or companies) recover from and/or survive a crisis.  The media may be just arriving on the scene or not yet arrived at this phase.

2. Honeymoon Phase: In this phase people draw together to solve problems in an intense showing of community. Media interest is intense during this phase.

3. Disillusionment Phase: People begin to get a mentality of “everyone for himself” when delays and other issues common with crises set in. About this time media interest begins to fade and blame is assigned. This phase could extend from two months to one or more years.

4. Reconstruction Phase: People start to pull together again to get things done, delays in the process continue to garner negative feelings and reactions. The media may revisit the crises at this time (one-year anniversaries, etc.)

These stages are geared toward more extreme cases, but organizations can apply them to any type of crisis or disaster.

Recovery: Follow up with media, stakeholders, employees, and all others concerned. If you have provided accurate information in a timely manner  the better chance your company has of recovering from the crisis.

Remember one of the keys to successfully derailing a crisis is the news media. Get them inside the crisis, brief them as often as new information becomes available, and give them an insider’s perspective of how it is that you handle a crisis. It sounds like a bad idea, but it works. According to Clarence Jones “Winning with the News Media”

  • Reporters are, by nature, gossips.
  • Being inside gives journalists special knowledge, power and prestige.
  • By watching your decision-making process, reporters can better understand the options.
  • They are more likely to report you were the good guy who did the right thing, and made the best of a bad situation.

Read other articles about crisis communication:

“The Seven Biggest Mistakes in Crisis Communication” by John Bradfield

“The Moral (and Economic) Value of Saying You’re Sorry,” by Gerald Baron

“7 Must-Have Elements in Every Crisis Communication Kit” by Don Crowther

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Transparency: How to Become a Transparent Organization

2910831531_67dcd2bac5“ Transparency often leads you to the right path. What is the worst-case scenario with transparency? You’re being honest and saying things that are real — the right outcome is eventually going to come out of that.”Dave Balter, Founder and CEO of BzzAgent

I was inspired by a discussion we had about transparency in my Strategic Social Media class with Paull Young. Young believes that transparency is important because, “Trust is too important to play around with.” That statement should resonate with all businesses, and people for that matter.

Businesses are fighting for trust from their intended audiences. Shel Holtz and John Havens, authors of “Tactical Transparency,” state that the realities associated with doing business in today’s “business environment have emerged as the result of recent trends: Declining trust in business as usual and the increased public scrutiny under which companies find themselves thanks to the evolution of social media.” It is important, now more than ever, for organizations to use tools successfully to be sincerely but prudently transparent in ways that matter to their stakeholders.

Tactical Transparency adopted the following definition for transparency:

Transparency is the degree to which an organization shares the following with its stakeholder publics:

  • Its leaders: The leaders of transparent companies are accessible and are straightforward when talking with members of key audiences.
  • Its employees: Employees or transparent companies are accessible, can reinforce the public view of the company, and able to help people where appropriate.
  • Its values: Ethical behavior, fair treatment, and other values are on full display in transparent companies.
  • Its culture: How a company does things is more important today than what it does. The way things are done is not a secret in transparent companies.
  • The results of its business practices, both good and bad: Successes, failures, problems, and victories all are communicated by transparent companies.
  • Its business strategy: Of particular importance to the investment community but also of interest to several other audiences, a company’s strategy is a key basis for investment decisions. Misalignment of a company’s strategy and investors’ expectations usually result in disaster.

Transparency is no longer an option. No matter how hard you try to hide something, the truth will always be revealed. It is in the company’s best interest to behave ethically and talk openly.

Companies should be well aware that no organization can avoid implementing the tools that will help create better dialogue with customers, partners, and employees. While using these tools, especially online, it is imperative to remain transparent and honest throughout all initiatives. To ensure that your company is transparent the first thing you need to do, as an organization, is assess the situation.

Assess:

What communication tools are in place that can capture employee ideas? It is important to create an environment that invites and encourages internal dialogue. Do employees feel that their opinions and concerns matter and are there tools that easily allow employees to communicate thoughts and ideas? These questions are important in gauging how near or far an organization is to providing a welcoming and open environment for employees.

Adjust the Culture:

Transparency within an organization takes time and must involve every employee. This meaning that the CEO doesn’t need to be the one blogging or creating interactive media, but they do need to condone the process and be open to allowing employees within the company to produce these materials. Teaching executives how to feel comfortable with sharing information that previously was not talked about is a difficult task but a necessary one.

“I think the thing people really need to know about this is that transparency is sort of a long-term cause. It is not “flip the switch tomorrow morning and everybody gets what the reality needs to be.”

How Open is Right for You?

According to J.D. Lasica, cofounder of Ourmedia.org and the Social Media Group, there are three levels of transparency that an organization should consider when trying to achieve tactical transparency.

  1. Operational Transparency: That involves creating or following an ethics code, conflict-of-interest policies, and any other guidelines your organization creates. Check out WOMMA for a list of questions and recommendations.
  2. Transactional Transparency: This type of strategy provides guidelines and boundaries for employees so they can participate in the conversation in and out of the office. Can they have a personal blog that discusses work-related issues?
  3. Lifestyle Transparency: This is personalized information coming from sites like Facebook and Twitter. These channels require constant transparency and authenticity.

Most importantly, identify areas of the organization that shall remain private. Things kept private should only remain that way to maintain confidentiality. Typical examples of items that companies should not reveal include

  • Financials
  • Proprietary information
  • Personal information

Establish Your Voice:

Tactical Transparency lists varied views on both objective and subjective journalism. Whatever your organization adopts as its communications “voice,” it needs to be consistent. You need to demonstrate to employees and customers that you’re speaking truth and not just saying what people want to hear or what you want them to believe. “If you are not honest about where you’re coming from, customers will know it and likely never come back.”

Create an Action Plan:

Holtz and Havens outline specific situations where tactical transparency can transform a business:

  • Crises
  • Major change initiatives
  • Financial matters
  • Media interaction
  • Employee interaction with the outside world
  • Accessibility of management to strategic publics

For each situation, figure out how to incorporate a plan of action while remaining transparent.

Monitoring a business’ reputation can be a great opportunity to listen to those impacted or interested in your business. Whether it’s negative or positive feedback, it gives your business a chance to react quickly.

Tactical Transparency outlines in detail how to achieve transparency in an organization. This  relevant and pertinent topic will continue to be of great importance.

Interesting articles to check out:

Social media transparency: How realistic is it?

What Happens When Transparency Goes Wrong?