In the flash, your company can find itself under siege from public opinion and the media. Your reputation may be built on decades of service to customers and community and maintained without a blemish until a pivotal moment when the lens of a mobile phone captures a team member who is “off message.”
Recent crisis communications incidents by Fortune 100 companies are a warning call to create and carefully implement crisis management techniques that align to a new era in which a tweet can sink a company’s stock price or a viral video can undermine years of hard work and jeopardize your policy agenda.
Case in point: Passenger video of Dr. David Dao being forcibly removed from United Airlines 3411 on April 9 spread rapidly on social media — not only in the United States but around the world — and led morning broadcast news for several days.
This case study presents a prime example for corporate communicators to analyze their own people, process and product vulnerabilities. Key considerations exposed by this situation include:
- Are we leveraging the full potential of digital data and listening tools as an early warning system, to guide strategy, to track and understand stakeholders?
- Are we organized internally to address a crisis situation efficiently and collaboratively, bringing to bear relevant insights and diverse perspectives to guide our response?
- On a day-to-day basis, are we building a bank of goodwill with relevant influencers and credible advocates — including our own employees — who will help to amplify and defend our company’s values and messaging?
APCO Insight, the research arm of APCO Worldwide, recently conducted a study on reputation management that supports the notion that mobile, social and live-streaming technology are converging and pose an opportunity and a threat to corporate organizations. APCO Insight conducted this national survey of public opinion online among a random sample of 1,013 Americans 18 years of age and older on June 12-13. Here are a few top line statistics from the research:
- 54 percent of the U.S. public say they often get news or current events from social media sites.
- 61 percent indicated they post, comment or share something about a company on social media on a daily or weekly basis.
- 68 percent believe that the information they see about companies on social media influences their perception of the company.
- 77 percent agree that they feel empowered by their smartphone because it allows them to take a video or photo of a situation that they may experience or witness.
- 55 percent agree that Twitter is the best way to get a response if they have a customer complaint.
The prevalence and growing use of these communication tools present an opportunity for brands to build and maintain their reputation, but also a risk during certain situations. In this digital environment, the APCO research confirms the necessity for companies to build contingency plans around situations of public outcry and consider how a situation will affect the public, media, their employees, political forces and regulators, brand advocates, and general customers.
The convergence of this technology appears to be proliferating, and the need for reputation management plans are increasing at the same pace. Leveraging internal stakeholders, data and the communications tools during a challenging situation will position your organization toward an appropriate response during events that are unfolding in real time.
Katie Sprehe is a senior director at APCO Insight, the research arm of APCO Worldwide. Joshua Habursky is the founder and chairman of the Grassroots Professional Network.
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