Events - 14.06.2013 - 00:00 

Crisis communication 2.0

“Crisis communication is like seeing a dentist: it creates stress, it can cause pain and it is naturally unpleasant for those affected.” This is how Prof. Dr. Christian Hoffmann opened the 2013 Crisis Communication Summit.

13 June 2013. It is in the nature of crises that they require companies, authorities, organisations and politicians to be flexible. In times of crisis, communication towards the inside and towards the outside plays an important part and can have a decisive impact on the order of events. CEO’s, politicians and other decision-makers have therefore long retained communication experts to train them for times of crisis.

The social media as a new challenge
Whereas until a few years ago, crisis communication was predominantly concentrated on the print media, television and radio, the increasing use of the social media is adding new and even faster channels. As a consequence of the widespread use of mobile appliances such as smartphones and tablets, the publication threshold has been lowered, too. This has additionally extended the circle of people who are able to pass on news messages. For enterprises, this means that the factor of speed and the circle of multipliers of a news message take centre stage. In addition, a media convergence has been taking place for the last few years: classic media, the internet and the new media are coalescing. Information spreads rapidly and may change direction through the degree of interaction, and this around the clock.

Rethinking in the direction of interaction
What do social networks and media convergence mean for today’s crisis communication? Have tools such as media monitoring, media training, crisis manuals and the compilation of lists of “nasty questions” for possible enquiries become obsolete in the era of the new media?

The communication professionals at the Swiss Crisis Communication Summit of 12 June 2013 at the University of St.Gallen (HSG) agreed: specialised agencies are pleading for new ways of thinking, saying that honest, transparent and prompt communication in times of crisis will secure control. If a reaction is deferred for too long, the situation gets out of hand. However, companies – particularly organisations and big corporations that have a negative public image – also perceive dangers in a quick response, stating that it is not always necessary to react to everything – in the new media, in particular, this may result in an additional weighting of the topic and trigger off an unwanted dynamism.

Coordination processes inside an organisation increase the difficulty of keeping pace with social networks. Frequently, it is precisely critical voices that have to be coordinated internally and vetted by legal departments. It is clear that such coordination requires time, is unlikely to result in “transparent and clear” answers and is written in a language different from that of social media users.

Ambassadors in social media platforms
Fortunately, the communication experts were able to provide examples of how this can work. Bernhard Christen of Ricola demonstrated in an exemplary fashion how the traditional Swiss company managed to mobilise its fans to fight for their sweets. Ricola established a fan community on its Facebook page. Selected fans can try out new Ricola tastes and rate them on Facebook. When a critical contribution about the issue of the aspartame sweetener appeared, Ricola fans promptly counterattacked the “obstreperous” user.

Crisis communication 2.0 is only just beginning
Crisis communication 2.0 thus begins long before a possible crisis, with the monitoring of social networks and the identification of critical issues. Perception can be created in advance by a proactive social media campaign. People who are looking for ready-made solutions for crisis communication 2.0 to work in practice will find individual tools but no overall solutions. Crisis communication, then, is like seeing a dentist: it starts with prophylaxis, i.e. cleaning your teeth every day.

Photo: / kallejip

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