This week’s breaking news about the fatal shooting of an unarmed African-American man by a South Carolina police officer immediately concerned me. How will the public react? Will it be another Ferguson situation?
As a communications professional, I watched the story unfold and was pleasantly surprised with how the police chief and other public officials were handling the situation. It displayed many of the strategies I advise my publicly-held clients when employing crisis communications.
So what are we learning from the stories that unfold before our eyes that we can bring to our own businesses?
In today’s real-time world of social media and with critics everywhere, reputation management matters more than ever and it can be lost in an instant. So what should you do to prepare for a disaster that may arise within your own company? Here's three guidelines you MUST employ during a crisis or event that may hurt your company’s reputation or business:
- Be proactive
When you learn about a crisis that may affect your business, it’s imperative to jump into high gear and investigate into the facts immediately. There is no time to waste as rumors can start, and stock prices can plummet. Designate a crisis team, get as much specific and accurate information as possible, respond quickly and act conclusively.
Crisis communication plans allow an organization to take charge of how and which details of an event are communicated. Remember that the first hour or two are critical to getting the word out and setting the record. In this week's South Carolina incident, after questioning the officer, he was quickly charged and arrested. I think we will see that this swift action will help stave off the anger that many feel after seeing the stunning and disturbing video of the shooting making headlines across the country.
- Be transparent
Once the facts are gathered and statements written, information should be communicated and updated on a regular basis. Consistent communications during a crisis demonstrates that you have nothing to hide and help squelch rumors. Honest emotion and sympathy for the victims is also critical in crisis communications. North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers said, "I always look for the good in folks, and so I would hope that nobody would ever do something like that."
- Be accountable
If a mistake has been made, it’s important to take appropriate responsibility to keep your credibility intact. Start with outward recognition of the problem that exists and explain that something will be done to remedy the situation. Communicate strong, simple messages and provide enough context and background to demonstrate that your business acted responsibly and show that you have the situation under control.
Companies with successful and well-executed crisis communications plans and policies and are proactive, transparent and accountable will help keep their business in the driver's seat during a crisis, squash rumors and minimize the damage that can result to a company’s reputation.