This post is related to the Platform article “Crisis Communication 101 — Basic Rules of Managing a Crisis” by Philip Turkowitsch.
Communication tools on the World Wide Web allow us to distribute messages to millions of recipients simultaneously. The advantages over traditional media are diverse; especially for small businesses that cannot rely on a traditional media platform. There are a number of new media tools that you could make good use of during a crisis.
A dark site is a pre-designed web page that is unavailable to the public until activated in a crisis. Once activated, it replaces the regular company web site for a certain period of time. A dark site usually provides confirmed and verified information on the crisis as soon as it becomes available. If activated after a disaster, dark sites should be plain and respectful towards the victims. No logos, advertisements, or ambience pictures should be visible. The dark site should provide visitors with a link to the regular company website; you do want to keep your business running after all.
On July 15th, 2009, Caspian Airlines had an accident on a flight from Tehran, Iran to Yerevan, Armenia. 15 minutes after takeoff the airplane crashed into a field in Northern Iran, killing all 168 people on board. Caspian did not provide any accident information on their webpage (www.caspian.aero) for the first 24 hours after the crash. Even worse: they kept their company’s slogan on centre page. ‘Caspian – your first RELIABLE choice’. That is adding insult to the injury for all of the passengers’ family members.
With 55 Million monthly visits, Twitter is the fastest growing social network in 2009. Twitter allows you to answer the question ‘What are you doing right now?’ and share your answer with your friends. Twitter also allows companies to respond to corporate crisis situations within minutes, all you need is a cell phone or a laptop with internet connection. Although Twitter only allows you to post messages of 160 characters or less, it is still a good way of sending out an initial ‘holding statement’ (e.g. ‘We regret to confirm an incident involving one of our products. We will update at www.yourcompany.com’)
In August 2009, Microsoft was accused of running a racist advertisement campaign in Poland. Microsoft replaced the head of an African-American man with a white man’s head on a poster to better target the European audience. Although this was clearly a case of target group advertising rather than a racially motivated move, Microsoft instantly apologized to their stakeholders through Twitter. Their message read: “Marketing site photo mistake – sincere apologies – we are in the process of taking down the image.”
Many companies and celebrities maintain a blog to keep in contact with their customers/fans and some of them actually make good use of the technology when confronted with a crisis.
Country-Pop singer Taylor Swift won her first big award at the MTV Video Awards in 2009. While giving an emotional acceptance speech she was interrupted by Hip Hop artist Kanye West. West appeared on stage, took the microphone out of Swift’s hand and declared that the award should have gone to Beyoncé instead. When he left the stage (and a crying Swift behind) loud boos from the crowd followed him into the dressing rooms.
Kanye found himself in a publicity crisis that night and he decided to apologize to Taylor Swift through his blog. Although he lost a lot of respect from many people as a result of his actions, Kanye did a good job sending out an initial crisis response message addressing almost all of his crisis stakeholders. In his blog entry he acknowledged his mistake and apologized to Taylor (victim), Taylor’s mom (victim’s family), her fans (victim’s friends), his fans (customers), and MTV (host & investor).
Beyoncé, who unwillingly got involved in the entire situation, won an award later that night. She gracefully stated that she had had her share of moments in the spotlight, and invited Taylor Swift back on stage to eventually give her acceptance speech. And that is how pure class can get you out of a crisis.