Imagine walking into work one day. It's a normal day, nothing unusual. Then it's not. You're Applebee's and making headlines because you fired a waitress and your Facebook page is under attack. You work for Carnival and a fire aboard a ship suddenly has your company and "cruise from hell" in the same sentence. Or, you're watching the Super Bowl and a 35-minute power outage puts your company's power control equipment out there for all to see. Think it can't happen to your business or destination? Think again and read on...
I've written about crisis communications in the past, but it's been a while. And after recent headlines from Carnival's "cruise from hell" to Nike sponsored athletes (Lance Armstrong, Oscar Pistorius) to the Applebee's incident, it seemed like a good time to revisit the topic. The emergence of social media has dramatically changed crisis communications. In fact, I believe the better term today is "crisis conversations." Many businesses, hotels, restaurants and destinations have crisis plans in place, and regularly update them. Many do not.
If you're one of the "nots" it's time to quickly address that hole because in today's fast moving world, situations can quickly get out of control, even if you do have a plan. In the past, crisis communications dealt primarily with working with the media. But today, crisis conversations expands beyond that to include social channels like Facebook, Twitter, etc. Hotels are extremely susceptible to negative news. Food poison stories and stories about crime against guests often make the headlines. Destinations wrestle with stories about natural disasters and oil spills. It is important to be ready to handle the crisis conversations surrounding these types of stories.
If handled poorly, a negative story can be devastating to a hotel’s bottom line or a destination's reputation. An effective response can help minimize this, and blunt any long term negative implications. If you already have a plan, have you ensured it’s complete and covers social media and the potential backlash that may occur from users on those channels? If you don't have a plan, you need to immediately develop it. The start of an effective plan includes:
- Identifying those involved in implementing the plan, including appropriate spokespeople to work with media and in social media channels – and realize it’s possible they won’t be the same people.
- Ensuring all channels that will be used for distribution of information have been identified, including your website and social media accounts.
- Proactively engaging the situation and not hiding information. It’ll eventually be exposed. It always has been, just ask Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.
- Sticking to the facts and avoiding speculation. However, it is important to realize the facts need to address the emotional context of the situation.
- Monitoring and tweaking your actions based on the situation and being flexible based on changing circumstances.
No amount of preparation or planning can prevent a potential crisis or negative situation. But knowing how to effectively communicate your message during it is key to minimizing the impact.