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The Forgotten Stakeholder In Crisis Communication

By: Guest | September 1, 2011 | 
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Today’s guest post is written by Alicia Kan.  She is presenting next week’s Spin Sucks Pro webinar on crisis communications. You’ll find more information below.

From BP to Kenneth Cole to Mattel, there is no lack of disasters that we, as communications professionals, can analyze and learn from. These examples add to the growing body of guides on how to survive a corporate crisis played out in social media.

Each case prescribes the best practices we know are elemental in handling a tough situation: Take ownership, use all channels to share and reiterate key messages, actively engage with customers, reply to critics quickly and factually, explain what you are doing to resolve the situation, and be transparent.

In all these cases however, one thing is curiously missing. No one ever talks about the forgotten stakeholders: Employees.

Across the company spectrum, from rank-and-file staff to even senior executives, very few crisis communications plans are designed to keep employees top-of-mind.

Overlooking employees is never deliberate. They are not the most immediate threat – Facebook posts and withering tweets are what cause the real ripples. And as in all crises, the tendency is to confine a grim situation to a group tasked with resolving it rather than spreading it more broadly across the organization. In most cases a one-off email confirming the situation and the steps the company is doing is considered good enough.

This is unfortunate for three reasons:

  1. Employees can act as brand advocates on their own social networks.

    If we believe that social media is not just one department’s job but the entire company’s, it makes sense to enlist employees’ help in stanching a crisis.

    It requires that, as with external stakeholders, they should be updated on key developments as they unfold, not learn about it online.

    This raises the sticky question: What if my company/client restricts employee access to social platforms?

    What companies need to consider is that banning Facebook in the workplace does not prevent an employee from going on it on a home computer or smart phone. Information will be shared, one way or another. It makes more sense to keep messages clear, consistent and timely, no matter what the company policy is about social media activity.

  2. Putting internal crisis communications on the back burner stokes dissatisfaction.

    Make no mistake about it, employees are watching just as avidly as outsiders – if not more – as their company’s crisis plays out in public.

    The implications for labor-related crises are especially sobering. A July crisis preparedness study conducted globally by Burson-Marsteller and Penn Schoen Berland found that the top crisis encountered by 31 per cent of respondents were controversial company layoffs.

    If a firm had disgruntled employees to start with, the absence of information can be perceived as a lack of respect for staff, not exactly the right incentive for them to rally around the company in its time of need. In fact it could be the cue for them to initiate action that could worsen the situation.

  3. Management, to use a much-abused word, has to be aligned.

    Nobody wants to be the last to know. Containing the crisis to a group only demoralizes those in positions of responsibility and accountability when they read about it in their Twitter feed.

    Bosses influence their direct reports. Engaging the former at the outset, even though they don’t play a direct role in solving the crisis, puts the onus on them to be part of the solution. Their job is equally important: To positively influence their direct reports and fill in the gaps where emails can’t. The company is asking them to step up as leaders, and very few will ignore the call to measure up to that expectation.

Finally there is no better opportunity than a crisis to close the gap between what a company claims to be and what it truly is. In your company branding, do you profess to be the employer of choice? Do you claim to put staff above all else? Do you say your employees are empowered? If there had been any lingering cynicism before, now is the time to show that your positioning is not just slick verbiage, but truth.

Editor’s note: Want to learn more from Alicia? She has excellent crisis communications lessons to share with us in next week’s webinar, Turning a Crisis into a PR Coup. In 2009, Alicia led the marketing for a global professional services firm when a strike in the New Zealand office escalated to protests organized on social media.  You’ll learn how her team led the company, unfamiliar and untrusting of social media, through the crisis communications effort. She’ll share the the do’s and don’ts of online crisis communications, and how to  find that silver lining in your own situation. Thursday, September 8, 11 am Central. ($50)  Register here.

Alicia Kan advises companies in Asia and the US about digital communications and marketing. She will be sharing an international crisis communications case study driven by social media on September 8th.

 

 

 

 

 

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44 Comments on "The Forgotten Stakeholder In Crisis Communication"

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EmmaofCEM
4 years 11 months ago

I don’t get why some companies even bother blocking Facebook anymore. You’re absolutely right about the smart phones – blocking social networking sites is about as effective as prohibition, methinks.

KenMueller
4 years 11 months ago

I see this all the time. Fear. The argument that I hear all the time is: But I don’t trust my employees!

My response to that is: Well, who hired them?

That shuts them up pretty fast. We just need to make sure we are hiring the correct people, people that we trust. If we don’t trust our employees, we’re doing something wrong. We can’t view our employees as commodities. They are people. People that we can trust.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago

@David_AllBiz A face replaced your logo!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago

@David_AllBiz A face replaced your logo!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago

@David_AllBiz A face replaced your logo!

Lisa Gerber
4 years 11 months ago

@EmmaofCEM When you block something, you only aggravate the situation.

I always compare US drinking laws to those in Europe. They don’t have teen binge drinking problems there because they don’t forbid it like we do here.

It accomplishes the opposite!

Lisa Gerber
4 years 11 months ago

@EmmaofCEM When you block something, you only aggravate the situation.

I always compare US drinking laws to those in Europe. They don’t have teen binge drinking problems there because they don’t forbid it like we do here.

It accomplishes the opposite!

Lisa Gerber
4 years 11 months ago

@EmmaofCEM When you block something, you only aggravate the situation.

I always compare US drinking laws to those in Europe. They don’t have teen binge drinking problems there because they don’t forbid it like we do here.

It accomplishes the opposite!

RickRice
4 years 11 months ago

Excellent points! Employees are seen as a secondary, or lower, audience during a crisis and, all too often, in other situations. Frankly I think they are a critical group for all of an organization’s messages. Good luck with the webinar.

alexklevine
alexklevine
4 years 11 months ago

Agreed! I have friends at Groupon at they were put in really uncomfortable situations with friends and family due to the way Groupon handled their Super Bowl Ad crises (and their lack of preparedness for it, even though they admitted their ads were risky and airing one vaguely about exploiting Tibet very shortly after opening offices in China). Their employees could have been great allies, instead employees were put in a rough situation that execs saw coming.

ExtremelyAvg
ExtremelyAvg
4 years 11 months ago
I don’t have any experience in crisis management, am a generally bitter person, and look at the world through snark colored glasses, but I would like to put my two cents worth in. I think that most senior management are older, less likely to fully understand social media, probably generally stupid with regards to computers and such, and the skill set that let them climb to their vaulted position 20 years ago, is no longer pertinent. (Note: I really meant to just say generally stupid, but that seemed mean.) They are people who are control freaks. It is this driving… Read more »
ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago

Alicia, I cannot wait for your webinar next week! Very excited to hear about your experience and how you can take all of the practice and implement it into action. I also hope you’ll be wearing fabulous shoes…even though we won’t be able to see them.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago

@ExtremelyAvg “Snark colored glasses.” LOL

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago

@alexklevine How are your friends at Groupon doing with the violation of the quiet period while they prep for their IPO?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago

@EmmaofCEM I don’t understand it, either. But LOTS of CIOs and IT departments don’t want any work computers on the web at all, let alone on the social networks.

KDillabough
KDillabough
4 years 11 months ago

@martinwaxman @ginidietrich Thanks so much Martin for the RT:)

KDillabough
KDillabough
4 years 11 months ago

@martinwaxman @ginidietrich Thanks so much Martin for the RT:)

aliciakan
aliciakan
4 years 11 months ago

If not for your invitation, it wouldn’t happen! Thanks so much for asking me to present.

aliciakan
aliciakan
4 years 11 months ago

@ExtremelyAvg Appreciate the candor! I have to say that after a crisis, senior management do develop a new appreciation for digital. Too bad it takes a crisis to get them there.

MSchechter
MSchechter
4 years 11 months ago
Ok, before I say anything, I need to specify that I am not a PR person and have no PR experience. I encourage you to tell me why what I am about to say is dead wrong. As I read your post, especially the second paragraph, I wanted to make sure my co-workers and employees were aware and informed, but NOT involved. Here is why: As a manager, when you say: “Take ownership, use all channels to share and reiterate key messages, actively engage with customers, reply to critics quickly and factually, explain what you are doing to resolve the… Read more »
MSchechter
MSchechter
4 years 11 months ago

Comment Cliffs Notes: To make this a lot shorter, I guess what I’m asking is, does the idea of traditional crisis messaging need to change if you intend to do atypical crisis communicating.

aliciakan
aliciakan
4 years 11 months ago

@RickRice Thanks for the kind words. They are a critical group indeed and companies don’t realize they are their secret weapon.

MSchechter
MSchechter
4 years 11 months ago

@ginidietrich@EmmaofCEM@Lisa Gerber It’s actually kind of funny, but MySpace is still blocked in our office from back in the day, FB and Twitter, not so much. See… there has been progress!

aliciakan
aliciakan
4 years 11 months ago

@KenMueller It’s a two-way street. Sometimes companies that are afraid to trust their employees know that the platform upon which that trust should be anchored is shaky.

aliciakan
aliciakan
4 years 11 months ago

@MSchechter Appreciate your reading and taking the time to comment! The second paragraph is targeted at communications professionals and outlines best practice for handling a crisis. Definitely employees shouldn’t be parroting a statement that can sound contrived — we hear enough of those!

In the case study I will present next week, among other measures the global company supplied FAQs to their leadership and encouraged them to talk to their teams, in their own words, in their own language. The message was the same but the choice of words and how it was expressed differed from employee to employee.

aliciakan
aliciakan
4 years 11 months ago

@MSchechter Appreciate your reading and taking the time to comment! The second paragraph is targeted at communications professionals and outlines best practice for handling a crisis. Definitely employees shouldn’t be parroting a statement that can sound contrived — we hear enough of those!

In the case study I will present next week, among other measures the global company supplied FAQs to their leadership and encouraged them to talk to their teams, in their own words, in their own language. The message was the same but the choice of words and how it was expressed differed from employee to employee.

aliciakan
aliciakan
4 years 11 months ago

@MSchechter Appreciate your reading and taking the time to comment! The second paragraph is targeted at communications professionals and outlines best practice for handling a crisis. Definitely employees shouldn’t be parroting a statement that can sound contrived — we hear enough of those!

In the case study I will present next week, among other measures the global company supplied FAQs to their leadership and encouraged them to talk to their teams, in their own words, in their own language. The message was the same but the choice of words and how it was expressed differed from employee to employee.

MSchechter
MSchechter
4 years 11 months ago

@aliciakan Thanks for the informative response. So it is more about creating a conversational frame these days than it is a corporate message?

aliciakan
aliciakan
4 years 11 months ago

There should still be a key message to be conveyed, e.g. ‘Product safety is our utmost priority.’ How it is said however, differs from say the CEO telling shareholders or a factory supervisor advising a vendor. The circumstances in which to communicate can change, the underlying message should not. A conversational framework is a good tool to use, as long as it’s not scripted.

aliciakan
aliciakan
4 years 11 months ago

@ginidietrich And I’ll be wearing my new vintage kitten heels. Gotta love etsy.

aliciakan
aliciakan
4 years 11 months ago

@mikepilarz Absolutely true that we’re all media outlets now. Thanks for the shout-out!

aliciakan
aliciakan
4 years 11 months ago

@marcopolosteve Thanks for the mention!

marcopolosteve
marcopolosteve
4 years 11 months ago

@CarlGriffith Thanks for the RT! How’s Singapore?

marcopolosteve
marcopolosteve
4 years 11 months ago

@CarlGriffith Thanks for the RT! How’s Singapore?

marcopolosteve
marcopolosteve
4 years 11 months ago

@CarlGriffith Thanks for the RT! How’s Singapore?

CarlGriffith
CarlGriffith
4 years 11 months ago

@marcopolosteve you’re welcome, Steve. All good here thank you. How is HK?

CarlGriffith
CarlGriffith
4 years 11 months ago

@marcopolosteve you’re welcome, Steve. All good here thank you. How is HK?

ExtremelyAvg
ExtremelyAvg
4 years 11 months ago

@aliciakan@ginidietrich I don’t know what a vintage kitten heel is, but I like the sound of it.

aliciakan
aliciakan
4 years 11 months ago

@ExtremelyAvg@ginidietrich It’s a shapely two-inch or thereabouts heel. Very sensible and lovely to boot!

aliciakan
aliciakan
4 years 11 months ago

@SteveLevine1 Hey thanks for the shout-out!

SteveLevine1
SteveLevine1
4 years 11 months ago

@aliciakan anytime. I also g+’d, FB liked. Nice piece

aliciakan
aliciakan
4 years 11 months ago

@SteveLevine1 You’re a star, you know that?

SteveLevine1
SteveLevine1
4 years 11 months ago

@aliciakan complements like that (referring to moi as a star) will you get you everywhere LOL seriously, thank you

aliciakan
aliciakan
4 years 11 months ago

@ewittke Thanks for the mention!

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