Corporate Communications, Constant Crisis

25 August 2015 - By Julien Naillet

Business organizations increasingly have to interact with the social media. From simple questions to outright reproof, the flow is now a permanent form of crisis.

In recent months there have been dozens of examples of so-called sensitive communication situations, increasingly exposing organizations only to see their image torn to shreds, mainly on the Internet.

In our sector, we cannot afford to overlook either the malicious attempts to undermine the DNS resolution system, or the legitimate doubts of a customer faced with the maze of a thousand namespaces available worldwide. In situations such as these, companies have responded by multiplying the media monitoring and dispute resolution systems, making the satisfaction of their stakeholders the focus for every decision.

An increasing number of sensitive situations

Reserved for use by major corporations only a few years ago, media surveillance and reputation management systems are gradually being adopted by SMEs in order to respond to consumers increasingly seeking opinions and advice (5 out of 10 consumers choose SOHOs / SMEs for their e-reputation (Source: Marketecture). The requisite increase in skills is also due to the growing number of crises from one year to the next, primarily occurring on the digital media. For 2014 alone, that represented almost 2 crises a week! (Source: Reputationlab).  

According to that study, the summer break is conducive to the increase in the number of crises, illustrating why the monitoring of stakeholders – whether of companies or associations – carried out by the personnel in contact with the public (e.g. customer service, sales or communication staff) has to be continuous.

As in the scandal over the embezzlement of the Association for Research against Cancer (ARC) in France, not-for-profit organizations are not spared by the phenomenon, and although happily there are not many similar instances, associations are generally less well-prepared for the consequences than their causes. Yet the assets they have to protect are all the more vulnerable, precisely because an association is generally expected to be even more virtuous than a business.

Since providing support for crisis management is part of my job, my second office is called the War Room, and I have to be ready to issue a statement whenever a twitter associates the name of Afnic with a #fail or any other alarming term.

The need to control a corporate image in a time and space in which immediacy is increasingly becoming the key factor involves a certain degree of risk. Whether in reply to a communication error – representing 59% of the causes of major crises – or the use of Newspeak for lack of information, communication in sensitive situations also needs time for thought.

From twits to tweets: a continuous cycle

The proliferation in the number of media has given stakeholders greater power, some of whom take increasing advantage of the anonymity offered by digital technology. This being said, the rebalancing of power between an organization’s "communicators" and its public must not affect their mutual trust and confidence, either by seeking to be the main source of information, or by remaining silent when a critical situation occurs. The havoc created during the first few hours of the Fukushima disaster demonstrated the ineffectiveness of such a strategy when a major crisis hits, but the effects of non-stop communication can be equally as harmful.

The increase in the number of crises means we can no longer face them as occasional events, but rather as a permanent state in which the only variant is their degree of intensity.

This being so, "action stations" situations must now be faced without losing our heads, remembering the best practices for corporate communications in sensitive situations: empathy, transparency and truth.

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