Crisis communication: how to react?
All companies have experienced, or will experience, a crisis situation as part of their development. Whatever the size of the company, whatever its sector of activity and its mode of administration, a company is destined to face difficult times, to face this storm in order to start afresh. According to many business leaders and senior executives, it is even a formative step that it is essential to face and know in order to start over on a better basis. Once a company’s weaknesses are identified (whether they are weaknesses in communication, human, financial or material resource management), it is all the easier to correct these weaknesses to move forward.
But questions may arise as to the best way to react, in terms of communication, when my company is in the middle of the crisis, when it is going through the storm? Should we opt for a strategy of laissez-faire and passive behaviour, or should we do everything possible to get out of the crisis as quickly as possible in order to avoid negative consequences as much as possible? The purpose of this article is therefore to give you all the answers to these essential questions, and to find a solution to this central problem that we will keep in mind throughout the article: how to react during a crisis situation?
Identification: take the time to act quickly
That’s it, a crisis has started around your company. A product that is lacking, negative customer feedback, a service that does not meet expectations… The causes are many, diverse and varied but the result is that your company is caught in a major crisis, which is not long in being relayed by the surrounding media. If we had to stop for a moment on the meaning of the words, let us note that the word “crisis” is taken from the word “criticism”, where criticism appears, in its first sense, as a crisis of a system. Thus, a company in a crisis situation is a company that must face “criticisms” about its functioning in order to find the most appropriate responses. The crisis should not be seen as the end of your business but as the beginning of something new. As a priority, you must therefore find the best way not to make your company survive, but to initiate this renewal, to launch it on a new path, that of success.
The first thing that should alert you, as a company manager or executive, is therefore the root causes of the crisis that is currently affecting your company. All too often, the mistake is made by executives and senior managers to want to find a solution at all costs, in the shortest possible time. But this solution is often bad and it does not happen to be in line with the true nature of the crisis affecting the company. The risk of misidentifying the causes of the crisis affecting your company is to provide an inappropriate response to the same crisis and thereby prolong the duration of your current bad situation.
We had the example last year with Volkswagen, and this year with Samsung. The Korean household appliance and hi-fi giant saw an international scandal hit his company. It was following a video where the latest Samsung smartphone was seen to burn and explode, that a crisis broke out around the company. But rather than reacting to this phenomenon, which affected only a very small proportion of the smartphones produced, the brand preferred to remain discreet on this subject by giving more than approximate figures to the world press, but while continuing to invest very significant sums in communication around the launch of the product. This was an absolutely inappropriate response to the crisis and soon put the company even more at the heart of the storm. It was only very recently, at the time of writing, that the company decided to react and bounce back by openly communicating about the scandal and the risk of some of its phones that could be set on fire and explode.
Action: Doing the right thing
Once the time has passed to identify the real causes, comes the time for action. You need to bring together all your teams around you as soon as possible, in order to have the most collegial opinion possible. Here again, avoid the widespread mistake of wanting to act as quickly as possible without taking into account the opinions of your employees, and even those of your employees.
In order to know which action to implement, you will have to rely on your identification made beforehand. What is the nature of the crisis affecting you? Which stakeholders (employees, subcontractors, suppliers, customers, etc.) can be directly or indirectly affected by this crisis? How should my company act to get out of this rut as quickly but above all as efficiently as possible? The action to be implemented, the most appropriate action, will be the one that will make it possible to answer all these questions at the same time. In the context of communication in crisis situations, reflection is really what must be given priority, effective, rapid and efficient reflection. Never lose sight of that.
Assessment: pending the next crisis
Now, the crisis is behind you, as best you can, you and your entire team have succeeded in getting your company out of the difficult situation in which it found itself. Now, it is essential, once again, to take the time to identify the points on which your crisis communication can be improved and those on which it can be based. You need to bring your teams together to discuss the past situation in order to find out what everyone is getting out of this experience, which may be negative, but can lead to very positive things in the long run.
Crisis communication is truly different from traditional communication, which a company can and must engage in as part of its ongoing development. During a crisis situation, the actions of a company are all the more scrutinized by the media and by all the stakeholders who revolve around the same company. But despite this central difference, it is important for you, as a company manager or senior executive, to note that in a crisis situation, it is indeed your thinking that will be your number one asset, your thinking and not your action, however fast it may be.
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