Crisis communications in-depth: Building goodwill

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Consider the following situations.

  • Your hear a negative accusation about your friend, Chris. Your neighbors are all gossiping about what happened and by the time they’re through, the story has evolved from Chris scolding his son in public to Chris yelling at his son over the PA system in the store and then leaving him there and just driving off. It’s like a game of telephone gone mad. But you know Chris, so you ask him what happened the next time you see him. And the two of you share a laugh when he tells you he’d had a rough day, his son kept asking for a new video game and he raised his voice when he shouldn’t have. You walk away thinking people make mistakes and Chris is a good guy.
  • You hear a negative accusation about Christine, the mom of one of your daughter’s classmates. The parents at the school basketball game are gossiping about what happened and by the time the story gets to you, Christine has gone from a mom that was maybe a bit overzealous and asked the coach why her daughter didn’t get to play more to a mom who yelled at and berated the coach publicly and threatened to pull her daughter off the team if she didn’t start the next game. The parents who told you the story were your friends and you’ve never met Christine. That night at home, you and your spouse are talking about the day and you recount the story about Christine. As you get into it and see your spouse shaking his/her head at Christine’s actions, you finish it off with “apparently her daughter was crying and everyone said she was really embarrassed.”

When companies are building or updating their crisis plans, it is imperative they consider the situations above or situations like them. Because there is one glaring difference in stories A and B – TRUST.

In story A, you know and trust Chris. So you seek out his side of the story and you give him the benefit of the doubt. In story B, you don’t know Christine. And you’re human. People gossip. We embellish. It happens.

Crisis communications is not just about managing the communications process during a crisis. Sure that is important and we need a plan for it. But true crisis communications is an everyday process that factors into a brand’s overall listening and engagement strategy. The “every day” is when companies build trust, relationships and advocates – I like to call it building goodwill. You can’t build those things in minutes, hours, days or even weeks when a crisis strikes. Just ask BP, Dominos or Amazon.

Companies often don’t want to spend the time, money and resources on relationship building. But when a crisis hits, it’s the first thing leadership will wish they had – that insurance policy again. Plus, being present online or offline is disarming to those who may decide to take your brand to task. It’s a lot harder for people to pile on when you’re standing there in the room with them, literally or figuratively.

Consider one final situation to help illustrate the value of built up goodwill. When United Airlines broke Dave Carroll’s guitar, they didn’t have much of a social presence online at all. So when Dave decided to tell his story through a music video, people laughed, shared the story, added their own extra oomph to the end of it and figuratively shook their heads at United.

During that same series of events, multiple Southwest Airlines customers made parody music videos about how Southwest never broke their guitars. And several months later when Southwest kicked Kevin Smith off a flight, it didn’t significantly hurt the company. Sure people were on Smith’s side and took the brand to task via social media. But quite a few people stood up for Southwest too. And in the end, I think most people gave Southwest the benefit of the doubt because of its track record. I know I did.

  • Do you find yourself giving people you know the benefit of the doubt?
  • Have you noticed a difference in how brands are treated when “present” online or offline?
  • What companies do a good job building goodwill, IYO?

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eplastino 5 pts

I used to do PR for a large state-funded psychiatric facility and this is how we solid relationships w/ the community and media so that they thought of us positively. Then if something bad happened, they were more likely to forgive.

JGoldsborough 222 pts

eplastino Exactly. Makes sense, huh? I just think we as PR pros too often think we can only work on or toward something when it's right in front of us. That's why the more I think about all these issues that come up involving reputation and social media -- it's a culture thing, plain and simple, You can tell the organizations that support doing anything and everything for the customer/community and build themslves on that vision.