Taking the “crisis” out of crisis communications

publication date: Jan 14, 2013
author/source: Janet Gadeski

Even in the 21st century, common sense and empathy are the core principles of crisis communication, says communications head Susan Bloch-Nevitte of the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario. What’s different, thanks to the power of social media, is the speed at which bad news and stakeholder or observer response can travel and multiply.

You can’t eliminate the negative

Speaking at November’s Congress 2012, presented by the Greater Toronto Chapter, Association of Professional Fundraisers, Bloch-Nevitte’s colleague Matthew Ross recalled the August 2012 social media storm when United Airlines lost a 10-year-old girl after failing to provide the promised staff care during her unaccompanied trip. The girl turned up after several hours, but her outraged parents contacted a local TV station about UA’s indifferent response and lack of apology.

The story went viral immediately. But instead of responding to comments (and a flood of other customer service complaints) posted on its Twitter feed and Facebook page, UA deleted them all and continued to tweet and post stories of its involvement with the US Olympic team (background here). “If you want to keep something alive [on social media],” Ross commented, “pretend it doesn’t exist.”

Top ten checklist

Whether you’re communicating through traditional or social media, though, the basic principles are the same. Here’s the crisis communications checklist that Bloch-Nevitte and Ross shared during their presentation.

  1. Have a common message with no more than three key points.
  2. Work from the inside out – communicate with staff and your closest stakeholders first.
  3. Think like those affected. That helps you figure out your key messages.
  4. Honesty, empathy and accountability go a long way.
  5. Share the steps you’re taking to avoid a repeat.
  6. Make your voice the trusted news source by providing regular updates.
  7. Follow the discussion, for both information and emotion.
  8. If appropriate, be ready to apologize.
  9. Conduct a post mortem to analyze what went wrong with the communications.
  10. Return to what Bloch-Nevitte called “peacetime initiatives,” or normal work.


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