Crisis Communication in the Age of Viral Media

Editor's Note:  Christopher Lukach is one of four speakers who will participate in our Educational Speaker Showcases at SOCMA's 95th Annual Dinner on December 5 in New York. Here, he shares just a glimpse of the issue he will discuss with SOCMA members and attendees at the Annual Dinner.

Christopher Lukach, President, Anne Klein Communications Group, LLCAs crisis communication counselors, the core of our practice rests not in responding to crises, but in anticipating and preparing for them. Time and time again, we’ve seen that those companies best prepared to weather a storm are those who pack their umbrellas and make sure to have a few dry towels just in case.

Although a complicated undertaking, preparing to communicate through a crisis was more manageable task when “crisis” was an easier term to define. The highest-profile crises—those that attracted the most media interest—were ones that posed a tangible threat to individuals, to safety, to property. They were the crises with the power to displace, to afflict, to affect.

The news media mantra used to be, “if it bleeds, it leads.” But in the struggle to keep up with social media, traditional media have transformed themselves. Now, a crisis need not be a major “event” to garner attention and generate major interest.  If the crisis is chatter-causing click-bait … if it’s likely to generate shares or re-tweets … if it’s likely to aggravate, surprise or play to emotions … or if it contains puppies or kittens, it leads.

Viral media have overtaken traditional media. Viral media are unpredictable. Viral media are not held to a universal standard of “newsworthy.” And without the ability to anticipate every minor crisis that can rattle your business and shatter your bottom line, the crisis communicator’s job has become more difficult than ever.  

Savvy manufacturers are adapting.  Here’s how:

If you aren’t monitoring social media, start. Right now. Viral moves quickly, but not instantaneously, and social media participation is the only true barometer for brewing viral crises. Shockingly, while social media participation among Fortune 500 companies ticks up a few percentage points every year, nearly a quarter do not use Twitter, and nearly 30 percent do not use Facebook. You might not be able to anticipate every newsworthy crisis, but active social media monitoring and participation offers the only chance to prepare your response in the seedling stage.

Redefine your organization’s definition of the word “crisis.” Make sure your crisis communications plans address not only conventional crises, but also every scenario that could erode the goodwill of the people you serve. While most producers operationally plan for incidents such as spills, fires, natural disasters, and terrorism, a security guard caught napping during a shift could pose a potent and powerful communications challenge. Think in real terms, and factor into your planning the incidents you see potentially affecting colleagues and competitors.  Plan for everything.

Be vigilant; do good work. At the risk of stating the obvious, the majority of crises spring from mismanagement, poor judgment or poor behavior. While it certainly shouldn’t take the fear of public exposure to keep your organizations and your employees on the up and up, a little extra incentive never hurts.

Want to learn more about crisis communication in the age of viral media? Register today for SOCMA's 95th Annual Dinner.
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