Reputation management is associated with many to be at the forefront of all PR communicative activities.
But what happens when crisis strikes?
The academic literature surrounding crisis management has detailed theories regarding how a PR practitioner should react when their organisation comes under fire.
Benoit’s theory suggests deniability and often evasion of responsibility, while the academic Coombs agrees that a PR practitioner and an organisation should be wary before assuming responsibility for the crisis. Haywood believes in a fast track approach of telling it all, telling it fast and telling true, where Winner urges caution, relaying limited information in a timely sensitive manner to the public.
Seemingly most PR practitioners may agree that each crisis will require different strategies and methods to combat the crisis.
The speed of social media’s advancement has seen PR practitioners go one or two ways – fear the consequence of potential mishaps or embracing the prospect of enhanced visibility for their clients or organisations.
There are many more examples of when using social media to defuse a crisis goes incredibly wrong, but for our first example, we’re going to focus on when it goes very, very right.
Whilst they are usually responsible for distributing aid to others, American Red Cross had to come to its own aid years ago, when an employee assumed he was tweeting from his personal account when actually, he tweeted from the official Twitter of American Red Cross.
The tweet went something like this,
“Ryan found 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer… when we drink we do it right #gettingslizzerd.”
Whilst American Red Cross hilariously responded to the crisis,
“We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys.”
Although they deleted the rogue tweet, the internet never keeps anything secret and it’s still available through a simple Google search.
Some academics and PR practitioners urged caution when deleting such messages on social media, however in the case of American Red Cross, they recognised their error quickly, combined their crisis communication plan with a combination of humility and light hearted humour resulting in the crisis being quickly dissolved and presented the charity in perhaps a more favourable light than they were pre crisis.
Dogfish Head also jumped on the bandwagon promoting the hashtag and encouraging people to donate to the American Red Cross.
Speaking of which, here’s some links you can make your donation:
Moving swiftly on to our next example, a charity currently under extreme scrutiny, Oxfam.
This is a prime example of when an organisation handles a crisis wrong. Firstly, in 2011 Oxfam suppressed emerging stories of sexual misconduct claims and sacked those responsible for this. Some PR practitioners would agree that if they had opened up about these claims initially, they would have instilled a degree of confidence in the charity and it would have protected their reputation in the long run.
Unfortunately for Oxfam, nothing these days can stay hidden for long. This, combined with the increased visibility social media inherits, means the consequences of this decision in 2011 have been detrimental to the company’s reputation. This acts as a warning for all organisations, emphasising the need for an organised and effective crisis management plan that combats and resolves the issue the organisation faces.
These case studies highlight not only how any organisation can fall victim to a crisis, but interestingly introduces the notion that charities are held to a much more stringent standard than other corporations.
Please spare a few minutes to fill out the questionnaire linked below answering questions on how you feel organisations should respond in a crisis:
Annie Shivers is a final year BSc in Public Relations student at Ulster University. She is on Twitter at @ShiversAnnie and LinkedIn https://uk.linkedin.com/in/annie-shivers-9085b810a