Friday, January 14, 2011

Communicating in a Crisis -- Choose Wisely

We do a fair amount of crisis management work for our healthcare and consumer products clients. You never know when a crisis is going to hit, and you never know what twists and turns it might take. No matter what your industry, crisis preparedness and a plan for a disciplined response are a necessity. How your organization behaves and communicates during a crisis can be crucial to your future.

With many organizations that we’ve consulted with over the past several years, especially recently, we have highlighted and planned for the use of social media – Twitter and Facebook predominantly – as prominent communication vehicles within their crisis communication plans.

The temptation by many organizations is to rely on those very useful and quite effective social media tools exclusively for communication. But every crisis is different, and all audiences are not created equal.

Case in point, the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010.

While Twitter was an incredibly useful tool in communicating from Haiti to the rest of the outside world, a new study by the Knight Foundation reminds us that sometimes we have to think on a more basic level. The study concludes that radio – yes, radio – was the “most effective tool for serving the public,” just as it had been with the Indian Ocean tsunami and other recent natural disasters.

My point here is simply this: Don’t ignore the obvious when it comes to communicating in a crisis. In the case of Haiti, getting the word out to the widest audience – an audience without many modern tools, and one in which a good deal of people were illiterate – was the number one priority. And good old fashioned radio was the best tool to get the word out.

As the old expression goes, “horses for courses.” It isn’t necessarily the vehicle you need to focus on, but the environment in which your message needs to be delivered.