I have been reading and researching Public Relations communication in time of crisis and the obligation of a PR practitioner to inform their publics. I came across this blog, which I think provides insight into both areas. There are two things that this has brought to my attention.
1. When using Social Media, a company has a certain obligation to employ one person solely for that purpose. This will allow responsible interaction with Social Media once the company has begun its Social Media journey, and also lessen confusion as to who should report facts in a timely manner.
2. There is a definite responsibility to get the facts out to the public, and this must be done asap. A blog is a great way to do this, as long as it is professional and factual. The blog must, in entirety, respresent the company and its values in a way that will please the customers and clients.
Blogging in a Crisis
These comments are based on an crisis on which I worked recently. The crisis had a bit of everything — Congressional hearings, sensational charges, innuendos, falsehoods, facts, activists, demonstrations, hate mail, poisonous phone calls and hundreds of stories. It was a difficult time because facts weren’t available to the client at the beginning of the turmoil, and there was a period in which the media seemed to know far more about what was happening than the client. The client never did catch up with the news cycle and by time stories died away, the impression that the company had been engaged in wrongdoing was rooted, although the company now has a strong, fact-based case for its innocence.
How would blogging fit into a situation like this? Blogging, as some define it, — a place to record opinion and insights — does not fit. However, blogging as a continuous record of facts and corrections of errors in near real time would have been valuable. Regrettably, the client did not use the blogging tool but did make use of its Web page. A key difference between a Web page and blogging was critical. The corporate communications director relied on the Webmaster to upload information to the Web page. With a blog, the director could have created a content stream directly. Speed was critical.
The problem in a crisis is not opinion but facts. What you do not want is opinion or speculation. Either can touch off chaos and lawsuits. You need to state quickly and accurately what happened to whom, where, when and how. You need to state what the company is going to do about it, although you might not be able to give details. You need to answer questions quickly and accurately and to knock down rumors convincingly.
If a company cannot lead the media in getting the 5W’s out, it is condemned to follow, and news at the beginning of any crisis is filled with inaccuracy. You have seen this yourself.
“There were 500 people killed. Correction. There were about 200 people killed. Correction, the latest tally is less than 100. Further correction. The final count of people killed was 56. ”
Blogging is useful in such instances. One might not have a final count, but absurd figures like “500 people killed” could be knocked down at once. Further, blogging can add detail as it is verified and slow speculation. In the instance above, the last name of an individual convinced some reporters that a foreign country was involved in wrongdoing. The allegation was and is absurd, but it continues to surface and some “investigative” reporters appear to believe it. Blogging could have dented that rumor quickly by showing how stupid the allegation is.
Who should blog in a crisis? One person and one person only reporting directly to the CEO or to the corporate communications person who reports directly to the CEO. Facts as they come in should be verified for this person. Copy should be vetted before publishing — yes, even by legal counsel. There should be no hint of individuality in the blog and EVERYTHING must be approved. The blogger speaks for the company and never for himself or herself.
The company in the international incident is now fighting lawsuits. You can bet every word the CEO and corporate communications director have spoken and written will go under a tort attorney’s microscope. Even a minor slip will be used against them.
To summarize, blogging, because it is an easy tool to use, has a role in crisis communications to get out facts, to project a company’s message and to combat error.