Companies facing a crisis have long raced against the clock to address these emergencies, but with the pervasive advent of social media, that clock has sped up.
“Information is immediate,” said Peter V. Stanton of Stanton Communications. “There’s no longer time for prolonged deliberation.”
The formerly tried-and-true convention of dropping bad news on a Friday afternoon or just before a holiday is no longer viable.
“Friday afternoon looks more appetizing, but social media changes that,” said Henry Fawell of Campfire Communications in Annapolis. “Much of crisis communications is psychological. It’s getting businesses to understand the quickest way to resolve a crisis is to take their medicine”
But the increased pressure of dealing with a public that’s constantly tuned in to various media also can mean opportunities for crisis communication firms, as more businesses turn to them to enhance their in-house public relations teams, said Cindy DiBiasi of 3D Communications.
Many companies that already are operating with bare-bones communication teams don’t have time to pay attention to their online reputation, experts say.
“Anyone with a computer or a recording device can wreak havoc on a business instantaneously,” said Robert Weinhold of Fallston Group. “Many people see the Fallston Group as their chief reputation officer.”
Use of social media remains a “steep learning curve” for many businesses, but more are turning to specialized communications firms, Fawell said. He said he has been meeting more regularly with businesses that want to understand social media.
But businesses also should see social media as an advantage during a crisis, the experts say.
“It gives companies a chance to shape communication appropriately and a channel to engage the public outside of the media’s filter,” Stanton said.
He said social media also give companies in crisis a way to know what the public is thinking in real time so they can adjust communications accordingly.
Fawell said it helps if companies use social media to build “reputation capital” prior to a crisis so they have a “reservoir of good will” should something potentially damaging happen.
Weinhold recommended developing an “assertive” digital media program well in advance of a crisis.