Although social media may have added a whole new dimension to the discipline of media relations, it’s interesting to note that many of the key principles haven’t really changed at all. This is particularly true in the field of crisis communications.
Three of the most important rules of crisis communications for traditional press and broadcast media are just as relevant to social media. They are:
It has always been vital to respond to a crisis proactively rather than reactively. This means getting your message out there either before the story breaks or as soon as possible afterward.
When there were just daily newspapers and scheduled news programs, your deadlines were clearly defined, but with the advent of rolling news and citizen journalism, the faster you can be, the better. It may be tempting to delay things by saying “no comment” or just staying silent, but this makes it much easier for the media and public to assume the worst.
It can also be tempting to spend valuable time refining your message, running it through committees and approval processes. Don’t. The most important thing is that you put your head above the parapet and give a reasonable response.
It is vital to keep the media and public on your side. Ideally, this process will have started before any crisis occurs, through fostering relationships with journalists, bloggers and, of course, your customers.
Once the crisis has occurred, you keep them on your side by being helpful and giving them the information for which they ask. Let them know what you are doing to fix the situation and how long it will take.
Issuing regular statements and calling press conferences have traditionally been the way to do this. Now, social media platforms such as Twitter and YouTube enable you to be proactive in getting this information out to the widest possible audience.
Don’t try to put a positive spin on a crisis situation or deny responsibility when your organization is clearly at fault. Even the slightest hint that you might be hiding the truth will greatly damage your credibility.
The public has always been expert at spotting dishonesty. The difference now with social media is that your dishonesty will be discussed in great detail by thousands of people.
In addition, don’t be afraid to let your emotions show. If you are genuinely upset by a crisis, let people see that. It is always a good thing to show that you are human, too.
Dan Harvey is marketing & client relations director at HarveyLeach Media Training.