Smartphones catapult crisis risk: 3 things to do

Nearly 110 million Americans, from kids and grandmothers to potential e-reporters and employees, carry the device that can spur a crisis in minutes. Here’s what to do.

In 2007, fewer than 3 percent of the U.S. population owned a smartphone.

Today, it’s 35 percent, or nearly 110 million Americans. A more than 10-fold increase in five years!

Those astounding figures from comScore Data Mine have profound implications for your organization’s crisis preparedness. Out of any crowd of bystanders, a solid third (significantly more in many areas of the country) are likely to be carrying a device in their pocket that is capable of instantly recording and broadcasting audio and video to the Web. The same can be said for your employees.

Confident that scuffle in the employee parking lot won’t cause a reputation problem because it was behind company walls, hidden from public eyes? Think again, someone caught it on their Android and it’s going viral on YouTube just in time for the weekend!

Spot some city workers snoozing on the clock? A couple minutes with the iPhone and you’ve got a Flickr feed full of embarrassing photos ready to be shared with Facebook, Twitter, and the blogosphere.

The pervasiveness and ease of use presented by modern phone technology makes everyone, from grade school kids (yes, they have cell phones now, and they probably know how to use them better than we do), to grandmothers, a potential e-reporter, spreading their own views of situations to whomever will listen.

How do you combat this? It’s simpler than you may expect.

First , you must have an organizational policy for smartphone use on the job, one that honors everyone’s First Amendment rights while also honoring your organization’s right to protect confidential information and personal privacy.

Second , assess the risk before you speak or act in any significant way. Would you like to see that moment replayed online if it’s being secretly recorded?

Finally , you must actively monitor the Web for mentions of your organization and key figures within it. When you see evidence of an impromptu bit of news being circulated—news not to your advantage—you must immediately become a better source of information than anyone else who may be talking about it. Step up and admit that you’ve been caught with your figurative pants down.

Give both reporters and stakeholders as much information as you can about the situation, and be sure to take the time to explain what happened, who was affected, and how you’ll prevent it from being a problem ever again. Sometimes your response can even be humorous. People respond well when we laugh at ourselves. But better, of course, is to avoid the problem in the first place.

Jonathan Bernstein is the president of Bernstein Crisis Management and Erik Bernstein is its social media manager.

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