Communicating With Stakeholders During a Crisis

Considerations for Including Mainstream Media in Crisis Communication Planning

The increasing use of social media by companies to communicate directly to employees, clients and customers during a crisis should be applauded. Being open and transparent to those key constituencies via social media may help a beleaguered company recover from a serious situation and perhaps help avoid a disaster. It may not in other instances where the communication is not strategically managed.

Caution should always be applied here.

First, the right information at the right time – if at all – must be seriously considered. Secondly, some companies are choosing to almost solely communicate via social media while almost gleefully ignoring mainstream media.

As noted by the Reuters Institute, traditional news-gathering and social media have become inexorably intertwined and that relationship is only going to continue to grow.

So if you find yourself in a difficult situation, before executing a communications strategy, consider the following:

  • Despite the rapid growth of social media, mainstream media remains the biggest player in the world of news – and can be a key player in shaping your company’s image. As the Reuters study found, “mainstream media is the lifeblood of topical social media … news organizations may not always be first to publish the news, but their agendas and discussions continue to shape conversations around major news stories.”
  • As noted by the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change, despite the constant criticism of the mainstream media, they are still “considered the most reliable sources of information, especially when it comes to events that affect the life of an individual.”
  • Believe it or not, reporters and editors are humans, too. They respond just as you and I based upon the way they are treated. A reporter whose job it is to report on your business or industry is going to respond to professional respect and courtesy. Likewise, if treated as irrelevant, that reporter is unlikely to cut you any slack when you most need it. The English language is a beautiful thing, partly because of its vast choice of words to describe events. Having a good relationship with reporters and editors can be of tremendous benefit when they are choosing the precise words to describe your company’s “misfortune” – or “mistake” – or “serious error” – or “negligence” – or “incompetence.”

If you are put in a situation where you have to discuss unpleasant information about your company, it remains best practice to first inform your employees and your loyal customers, and to meet all regulatory and disclosure requirement. Employees and customers generally will be supportive if you have built a culture of open and candid communication.

But if your company is to grow, you have to get beyond the loyal supporters and true believers. There are millions of potential customers out there. They need to hear your story, too, and they are still likely consumers of some form of mass media. Having that first rough draft of history written by someone you have treated fairly can be an important and necessary step for your company’s future.


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