The Internet and Crisis Management

Part 4 of our examination of crisis media management looks at how to harness the Internet’s powerful communication platform to assist with crisis management in the press .  Many companies find themselves behind the curve managing their digital footprint.  The Internet can be a tremendous tool for crisis management when you have the proper plan in place.

Companies today face the world on many fronts. Clients, the public, the media, vendors, lenders, investors and shareholders all have to be considered in a company’s daily operations. But in the past decade, in terms of crisis management, the Internet has become a critical, and often neglected venue.

Almost all businesses have websites today. Many are involved in e-commerce. Some do e-marketing and advertise online. The greater a company’s Internet presence, the more important it becomes to include the Internet in any crisis communications plan. The Internet can be a valuable tool. But, it can also be the cause of the crisis! Allow me to explain.

All the Opinion Fit to Print
The Internet is a vast and populous place, where anyone can create and post a website, launch a blog, disperse a video clip or initiate a viral email campaign.  In 2004, Dan Rather was drummed off the CBS News anchor desk after bloggers dissected and disproved the authenticity of documents he cited as proving President Bush failed to complete his National Guard service. By 2006, the major news networks all had blogs. ABC News’ blog “broke” the Mark Foley scandal courtesy of some blog participants and, eventually, emails from several Congressional pages who were contacted by the former Congressman.

Call it “wiki-journalism.” While individuals are empowered to participate in democratic debate, spread the news about a favorite brand and simply express their personal opinions to whomever cares to look them up online, corporate citizens must now consider the Internet as a potential “threat” when conducting a crisis communications audit.

Given the ease of dispersing information—and rumors, speculations and outright lies—on the Internet, companies must proactively monitor the Web for misinformation, negative reports, rumors and malicious “news” items aimed at their companies. No company is too small to escape this kind of negative Web presence, if someone with an axe to grind sets out to do damage. Monitoring becomes even more critical during an actual crisis, and should be included in the crisis communications plan.

Let the Information Flow
Few outlets are better tools for quickly and accurately spreading a company message. The Internet can be used to reach all company contacts, from regular customers to the general public. Since 9/11, the Internet has been recognized as a prime resource for “instant” news updates and crisis reporting.  The Internet is a nearly perfect vehicle for crisis communications.

  • Companies can immediately communicate their on-message response to a crisis.
  • It is available anytime, unlike traditional media; and can be accessed by a huge audience from almost anywhere.
  • Dispensing information online demonstrates the company’s commitment to the Internet and its users, and subtly implies that the company is in control of the situation. (“Hey! These guys have their act together!  There’s already info on their website!”)

Form an Internet Crisis Team
Just as you formed teams for other areas of crisis communications, you should select the people who will coordinate crisis management on the ’Net. In addition to the three team leaders, include your webmaster and online content management staff. Look into providing offsite access to the company website and email, so these team members can work from home or at a designated crisis operations center to update and manage information flow during a crisis. All companies must be alert to this kind of unauthorized activity, and have a plan in place for responding to preserve the brand and protect the company’s interests.

Template Power!
Creating a crisis response web page template is one item that should definitely be included in the crisis communications plan. The template should have pre-formatted general contact information and current company information, so all that a company needs to add during a crisis is the specific message they want to deliver. A standard posting template for newsgroups and listservs is also very useful. During a crisis, this page should be updated regularly to provide the latest information on the crisis and how the company is responding.

Meet the Press
The Web is an ideal dispenser for press releases, PDFs and even video clips. Enlist company webmasters to help prepare downloadable files for reporters to “pick up” when a crisis occurs and they are looking for images and information to assemble a story. These should be available at a press release page online. Make sure the “crisis” web page template has a link to this area of the company’s site.

The Internet as Consumer Activist
Many news programs maintain websites where product recalls and other consumer protection news items are posted. Request that company statements be posted to these websites with a link to the company site for additional information when a product safety statement is sent out.

Email Is Also a Factor
Many people will try to contact company representatives and employees during a crisis via email. Every effort should be made to personally respond to each email, but in the meantime, the auto-response feature built into most email applications today can be used to display a crisis response message to anyone contacting the company. Again, regular updates to this message will help reassure contacts that everything is under control.

How are you handling your Crisis Media Planning? Do you have a crisis media plan, a media relations team structure and understand how to interact with media to control the company message? Help your brand emerge from crises with reputations and brands intact.

Jim Thomas and JC Thomas Marketing Communications help businesses increase revenue through creative marketing ideas and intuitive software.  You can reach Jim at 704 .377.9660 ext. 2521 or at jim@jcthomas.com

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5 thoughts on “The Internet and Crisis Management

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