Business Monday

Spreading the Word: Handling crisis communication in the digital age requires readiness

Julie Talenfeld is president of BoardroomPR, a Fort Lauderdale-based communications and marketing agency.
Julie Talenfeld is president of BoardroomPR, a Fort Lauderdale-based communications and marketing agency.

In the summer of 1969, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told The New York Times, “There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule’s already full.”

Can your schedule handle a crisis?

In the digital age, an unexpected crisis, compounded by the immediacy of social media, makes crisis communications and reputation management critical to staving off serious threats.

It’s doubtful that executives with Volkswagen, Carnival Corp., or the Privé luxury condo in Aventura awoke one morning thinking they’d be facing extended corporate crises. Fraud surrounding its “clean diesel” cars cost VW its CEO, brought on global investigations and forced a $6.5 billion recall. Carnival Corporation executives were chided for being slow to respond, even as images of the Costa Concordia’s grounding circled the globe. While Privé is now under construction, courtroom and neighborhood confrontations with nearby homeowners were in the news for weeks. Who survives and who dies can depend on your readiness.

If you open the paper or log on to read a scathing story detailing problems at your company, how can you minimize damage to your reputation, especially if the story already is being shared on social media?

Get in front of the story. As soon as news of a crisis breaks, regardless of whether the company is at fault, it’s time to put a crisis management plan into action. Letting “the story get ahead of you” means you’re reacting, instead of steering the message. The plan will detail who can speak, what may be said, who will lead the effort — whether from the staff or a trusted crisis P.R. firm — and what tools will be used.

Know, then speak. This is no time for defensive tweets or off-the-cuff Facebook posts. While speed to market with a corrective comment or explanation is important, it’s critical that the message is poignant and factual. It’s OK to tweet, “We’re still gathering the facts. We’re committed to responding when we have all the information.” It’s never OK to post, “No comment.”

Have your tools in place. Beyond traditional social media, like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or a YouTube Channel, social media services exist to help organizations better execute campaigns. Hootsuite, Buffer and other social sharing services can be used to schedule posts or distribute them across various social media sites.

Build your online subscribers. Between consumers, competitors and especially the media, having Facebook fans and Twitter followers is not an exercise in vanity. It builds an audience prepared to receive your message. Actively growing your circles before an issue — or when you have good news to share anytime — can help distribute any message quickly.

Bad news happens to good companies. As headlines and rumors alike travel the globe at digital speed, executives must be ready to respond to both quickly and effectively. What you do today can help prepare for your reactions and survival tomorrow.

Julie Talenfeld is president of BoardroomPR, a Fort Lauderdale-based communications and marketing agency.

Spreading the Word features marketing and communications professionals sharing thoughts and advice on branding and social media. To be considered, submit topics to