Organisational Crisis in the Digital Age

In this day and age, there is an ever-growing need for organisations to pursue some sort of online presence to try and expand their ability to target and communicate with customers. Social media has accentuated this ability and thus has begun the age of instant communication to and from the once powerless consumer. Most organizations by now in 2017 have opted to dive straight into this deep ocean that is the online world in an attempt to stay relevant and keep up with the general consensus. This is often done without any strategical thinking, lacking in preparation when it comes to dealing with a crisis, probably because they think these reputation-destroying issues will never come knocking on their door. For the most part, the benefits of social media and the internet are undeniable but you’ve probably heard the term ‘any publicity is good publicity’. Well honestly, when you consider the power of the online world and mix it with an organisational crisis, that really isn’t true.

EPSON scanner image
EPSON scanner image

Nowadays both individuals and organizations are constantly being held accountable for what they said or did at absolutely any moment in time, it has forced all of these organisations to tread very carefully. It’s impossible for organisations to avoid some sort of negative publicity whenever they are going through a crisis. This is because these platforms simply don’t allow it, boohoo for the corporate. Citizen Journalists, Bloggers and Social media platforms eliminate the large organisation’s role as a gatekeeper in what information they distribute and want the public to receive. There is now a heavy spotlight constantly shining on these establishments and no longer can they simply influence the public the way they want to. For this reason, we see organisations implementing dedicated PR departments to handle the digital age and the package that comes with it.

These PR teams will work with the organization to establish an overview of how they want to be perceived by the general public and then simply strive to achieve that aim. Naturally, these aims for most organisations are displaying their organisation in a positive light. This for organisations involves constructing the right message and then correctly and efficiently disseminating the message where appropriate throughout different media relations. When it comes to an organisation suffering from a disastrous event that has the potential to ruin its public image, the PR professionals and department are tasked with deciding how they are going to not only handle the situation but also how they will repair the situation in the hope of reconstructing their message back to what it once was.

To prepare for a crisis, it is important to have a crisis management team, spokesperson and strategy already in place so that if or when it occurs they can implement the correct methods to overcome it straight away. Below I have highlighted different factors that need to be considered when in the midst of a crisis.

1. Address the perception of the crisis as often a crisis is not actually the extent of what something has occurred but more so the public’s perception of it.
2. Give thought to the people who are actually complaining. Anger hinders communication, to overcome an issue the public must first have their say.
3. Try and interpret the public’s mood and then focus on that emotional aspect personally rather than impersonally as a corporate organisation.
4. Always tell the truth, as we have pointed out that organisations are constantly in the spotlight. Lying will most likely lead to future issues, making the organisation worse off than before.
5. Take responsibility for what occurs, which coincides with telling the truth. This can be done by acknowledging what has occurred and announcing the issue is being addressed. In other words, apologise if you are in the wrong.
6. Stick with the professional aspect of your organisation, this will enable you to continuously strategically communicate a clear message.

(Don’t do this)

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Public Relations departments have a significant role in the managing of a crisis, they often will experience three stages;

1. Advising on the incident before it becomes public, discussing the strategic approach that should be taken.
2. As the incident becomes public knowledge, they must identify the key audiences that need the most focus of communication.
3. Support the communication to the public following the incident by making support materials which may involve; questions and answers, statements, speeches etc.

This potential for a such a devastating crisis to hit an organisation can create a certain level of scepticism when it comes to the online aspect of a business. For this reason, it really is important that organisations not only prepare for it as if they are expecting it but also try and prevent it from happening in the first place. Crises have always been dangerous for the corporate world but that level of danger in the 21st century is seriously heightened. The durability of an organisation very much comes down to the strong ties that it holds with its publics, so the stronger these ties the more likely an organisation will be able to deal with a crisis and come out the other end with a fighting chance. For this reason, in my opinion organisations really should use social media and new media technologies to their advantage, prioritising and optimising their relations through the same very platforms that they can receive backlash.

When a crisis occurs for an organisation the question really isn’t are they going to suffer from negative exposure it is to what extent they are going to suffer. It’s important to note that when it does occur it really can seriously disrupt an organisation. An example of a crisis in recent years was United Airlines in April 2017.

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A passenger on one of their flights was videoed being physically removed, in fact violently dragged from one of their aeroplanes all because they picked him out of a crowd to be removed from his seat because the flight was overbooked. The incident not only left the man bleeding from the face but also left him unconscious despite the man doing absolutely nothing apart from wanting to stay on the flight that he believed to have booked a seat on fair and square. The organisation received absolutely astonishing backlash on social media platforms with thousands claiming they will never use the airline again. Below is a graph which shows the stock of United Airlines crashing on the day of the incident.

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They lost over $800 million in stock prices and whilst over the course of the next few months they gradually recovered from the crisis it highlights the power to which the online world has over large corporate organisations. Before the digital age of smart phones and social media, this incident would have been quickly buried.

See its really simple, just don’t be stupid enough to do something absolutely daft like United Airlines. No, I’m kidding it was a horrific situation and only confirms more that organisations should seriously take into consideration the methods they need to overcome such an event and make sure they are in place. This reason behind this is because, in reality there is probably thousands of United Airlines employees that would have handled that situation completely different and probably 100x better than these individuals did. You are unable to control every single person that you employ, for large organisations at least it is impossible and therefore you cannot determine when something like this will happen, for this reason it is important to plan for the worst. As Warren Buffet once said “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it”

 

Matthew Johnson is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. He can be found on Facebook at: Matthew Johnston and on Linkedin at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/matthew-johnston-172055153/