Crisis Communication Priorities for a Smoldering Crisis

(Writer’s note: Every day in March we’ll have a fresh, free, new article on this topic. If you’d like to dig deeper, you may wish to purchase a recording of the teleseminar called Social Media & Crisis Communications. Here is your purchase link.)

By Gerard Braud

DSC_0159As you look at crises, recognize that some crises are sudden, while others are smoldering crises. A smoldering crisis has the potential to get worse with time. You also have the ability to defuse a smoldering crisis and make it go away before it ignites.

From the perspective of the media, you can make the crisis look like a non-story. The way to make your story a non-story is to show competence, communicate in a timely manner and communicate quickly. Let’s look at two case studies.

The first case study was during the 2008 presidential elections. CNN had pegged a county in Colorado as the biggest battleground, barometer county in the country. This county would be the next Dade County, their election process would be the next hanging chad, and the spokesperson would be the next Catherine Harris.

Critics claimed was that the county was ill equipped to handle pre-election day early voting.  There could be problems with the voting machines and how the votes are counted.

From a crisis management standpoint, we worked with election officials to make more voting machines available. From a crisis communications standpoint, we were up at the crack of dawn as new voting machines were put in place. Sure, we could have issued a statement… and we did. We made the decision to use YouTube to show the voting machines being set up. Seeing is believing. The voters appreciated it and the media appreciated it. Since the media didn’t want to send camera crews out at their cost at the crack of dawn, we made it easy for them to visually cover the story by using your video on YouTube.

In the process, we showed that the county was competent and going the extra mile. In the end, the media gave up their harsh predictions and took their negative news coverage elsewhere. Social media played a strong role in making a negative story go away.

Add to your to-do list to take the time to be ready to use YouTube by making a YouTube Channel now. Make sure you have an iPhone, iPad or other similar smart device that allows you to quickly shoot and post videos. You may need to learn some basic video editing skills as well.

Along the lines of making a story go away with social media via YouTube, allow me to present my case for the Tiger Woods story. When Tiger Woods had his late night accident at the end of 2009, in his own driveway, it raised a lot of questions. I’ve long said that if you don’t tell your story, the media will think you are hiding something and they will go digging. I also constantly emphasize that you need to be ready to make a statement within one hour of the point at which a crisis goes public. Is it likely Woods, after an accident, would issue a statement quickly? Not likely. An athlete of his stature has “people” and a public relations team. I would expect the team to at least have a statement ready for the first news cycle. Instead, days went by before Woods issued a statement, leading to swirling rumors.

Sandy Hook ImageAccording to the Braud belief system, the power of social media, and especially YouTube, could have done wonders for Woods. When a celebrity goes into hiding, they have something to hide. When they hide, the media go looking for a story. I think a short YouTube video that said, “Hi, this is Tiger Woods. Last night, after a late night playing cards with the guys at my country club, I was involved in an embarrassing car wreck, in of all places, my own neighborhood. I hit a fire hydrant, then pulled forward abruptly and hit a tree. To say the least, this is embarrassing. I appreciate your concern and appreciate your understanding if I let this short video suffice as my statement for now.”

Without seeing and hearing from Tiger, rumors of a marital spat and girlfriend turned into a sex scandal with more than a dozen girlfriends. There is a good chance the bigger story would never have been explored if Woods had come forward and let us see him early.

In the process of presenting my case for a YouTube video for Woods, some have indicated that Woods may have actually been injured, perhaps by his wife hitting him with a golf club. I don’t know the facts about any possible visual cuts to Tiger’s face, but even if I have to shoot the video with a bandage on my face, I would do it and explain the bandage in the video.

The Tiger Woods case study has evolved over the years, but regardless of the facts today, we can consistently observe that saying nothing made the news coverage worse.

Let’s also take a minute to talk about how social media works better for celebrities, than it does for many companies. Celebrities have fanatical fans. Celebrity fans want to follow facebook-like-buttoncelebrity tweets, Facebook fan pages and YouTube channels. A manufacturing company or other business may be able to attract some fans, but you don’t have the same advantage as celebrities for reaching out via social media in either good times or bad. Let’s face it, do you think I really want to sign up for the fan page for a chemical plant? For more thoughts on people wanting to follow you, please visit my article about being a social media hypocrite.

In our next article, we’ll look at one big oil company and how they attempted to use social media during their crisis.


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