Lightning Speed – Your Reputation Life Saver

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    This post is a guest contribution by crisis management expert Rick Amme. Containing shocking stats and solid advice, it fits perfectly here on the Crisis Management blog. Without further ado, Rick Amme presents:

    Lightning Speed – Your Reputation Life Saver

    Here’s something to keep you awake at night. More than ever, you have precious little time to protect the reputation you worked hard to build for your business. Two incidents we all remember drive it home.

    When Sully Sullenberger successfully crash-landed his plane in the Hudson in 2009, a single tweet relayed the first news of it within one minute. One minute. The rest of the media followed so quickly, within 15 minutes, that the hair-raising accident was known nationwide while USAirways was still determining whether an aircraft was missing. At the time I thought that was breathtakingly fast information dissemination.

    Now that’s slow – compared to the flash communication of the East Coast earthquake last August. When tremors struck at 1:51pm, people near the Virginia epicenter reacted at the rate of 5500 tweets per second. Tweets reached New York City 40 seconds before the shockwaves according to SocialFlow as reported in The Wall Street Journal.

    While your reputation might not go south at those speeds, it’s wise to expect dramatically less time than ever to unsnarl a knot tightening around your neck. A PR friend recently told of his crisis team strategizing while they were simultaneously reading attacks arriving on their Facebook page.

    Now that I have your attention, I recommend these common sense preparations before your good name appears to be vanishing in the wind:

    1. Put a crisis plan in place – First prepare a short, clear plan to mobilize the right people rapidly. Prepare other plans for specific contingencies that are either worst-case and/or reasonably likely. Avoid cumbersome generic plans that tend to bog down and be dust-collectors. Important! Include internal communications as well as external.
    2. Designate and train a crisis team – A plan is only as good as the team that implements it. Also, research shows that 8 out of 10 CEO’s rely on teams more than plans. Therefore, select members carefully, crisis/media coach them now, and have them or their backups reachable 24/7. Expect that the accelerating needs of crisis communication could compel you to convene electronically because you won’t have time to meet physically.
    3. Drill the team – Regular businesses can do this table-top. Organizations with hazardous materials or are people-intensive (hospitals, schools, universities, large businesses) will want full scale drills.
    4. Be ready on social media – Have a presence as well as the ability to quickly convey your messages and actions through the social world (if necessary) as well as the traditional media and your website. Monitor online mentions of your company to get a heads-up on potential trouble.
    5. Act fast, not stupid – You must move fast while keeping your wits about you. On the one hand, actions speak louder than words and being “too late” can be a killer. On the other, you want to avoid getting ahead of facts and rushing to judgment. Therefore, speed might be in the form of decision-making, and prudent decisions come from knowledge of crisis management, experience, and good counsel. This can be high-wire stuff and is why the education of crisis/media coaching and drills is crucial.

    Ultimately, with less time than ever to make smart decisions in a crisis full of Hobson’s Choices, I believe ’tis better to err toward over-reaction because the consequences of under-reaction might be irrevocable.

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    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management
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    Rick Amme is president of Amme & Associates, a media/crisis management company in Winston-Salem. He is also a member of the Business Journal’s Editorial Board of Contributors. Reach him via www.amme.com, rick@amme.com or (336) 631-1855.