A friend recently challenged me to; once again, share an experience of a discourse, which interests him that bordered on the need to effectively manage crisis in communication. If there is anything that keeps occurring on a regular basis in our ivory towers and indeed in our life in general, it is crisis. Ordinarily, this should be expected because it involves human interaction and relations. Therefore, what should be uppermost to us all is the ability to effectively and efficiently manage and communicate such crises well whenever they happen.
This submission emerged at the ‘CASE Europe Crisis Communication Seminar’, organised by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, held at the Bonhill House, London. It was observed that those saddled with the responsibilities of managing the public reputation of their universities or who might be expected to deal with communications at the time of a major incident should be offered a way out on how best to manage the role of social media in crisis situations by responding to negative situations that could do harm to public image.
No doubt, communications professionals as managers are tested in no other way than when they have to manage the public perception and reputation of their organisations – more than ever before and during a major incident – should be ready to respond appropriately to the challenge. To begin with, Alison Arnot, Founding Director, Catalyst Communications identified the different types of crises, various plans to put in place whenever they occur and how best to react in such situations using her crisis communications experience in managing the well-publicised Glasgow Airport terror attacks as well as public affairs duties at the Glasgow Caledonian University, while reviewing the existing literature said a crisis as a potentially cost or harmful event that caused significant reputational, operational or financial harm.
On the nature of a crisis, she said it could be internally or externally, intentional or unintentional, sudden or ‘smouldering’, natural, technological and confrontational. Danger signs of a crisis often manifest as faults, misconduct, gossips and complaints. Defining the problem, quickly centralising and controlling the message are critical at crisis situations. The three crisis phases are crisis response, business recovery and business as usual. She concluded that reducing the impact of crises involve putting in place virile recovery plans, assembling and training the ‘critical incident team’, accurate messaging and visibility, being creative and establishing the proper communication under such difficult times.
The ‘Success Stories: Well Managed Crises’ was the title of Peter Dunn’s presentation, where he observed that building good and solid relationships are the essential in laying the foundation that would make crises difficult to thrive. Dunn of the University of Warwick maintained that the various segments in the university such as management itself, security, the ‘crisis team’, student union and the local press must develop a synergy that would assist to mitigate the effect of crisis.
In the age of information technology, ‘The Role of Social Media in a Crisis’ and ‘Social Media Workshop’ were examined in papers delivered by Tom Wright of the University of Nottingham, where he analysed the powerful role of the social media in communication with the unique features of immediacy, broad influence, customer feedback mechanism and brand loyalty. He said social media is as an online media that expedites conversations and allow users to generate content and participate unlike what obtains in traditional media. He illustrated the powerful effect of the social media and how it can be used to reach a large number of people within a very short time.
Wright noted that more people still relied on the Internet to get current news but warned that rumour mongering should be totally avoided as much as possible in any organisation by adopting a combination of timely information dissemination, blockage of any news vacuum, keeping the official website active, balancing speed with editorial filter, ‘saying no’ to inappropriate updates on the Internet and monitoring comments and respond accordingly, using the communication planning techniques.
These crises communication planning techniques require providing answers to the following posers – Who is responsible? Who needs to do what? Who needs to approve what? And being ready to learn one or two things whenever ‘the dust raises down’. Tania Rhodes-Taylor of the Queen Mary, University of London gave a personal encounter on the theme, ‘Working with Academics: Managing the Message” with the following pieces of advice: Don’t assume everyone sees things the way you see it. Secondly, there is the need to take a differentiated approach to managing the message depending on the individuals involved and their proximity to the crises.
The proceedings – which were moderated by Alison Steel of the Kingston University – had the panel and the wrap-up sessions that gave an ample avenue for the participants to discuss more freely and ask general questions that touched on developmental communications, crisis and information management. Certainly, communicators should always seek to keep abreast of developments so as to update audiences on the latest information through all channels at their disposal, including the social media. This is certainly a sacred duty!