The rapid growth of social media, fuelled by camera-enabled smart phones, is obvious for all to see, and it has had fundamental impacts on society. But what about its impacts on crisis communications? Victoria Cross suggests that it has resulted in the disappearance of the traditional ‘golden hour’.
Fight, flight, freeze… or film?
Evolutionary science tells us that when faced with a potentially dangerous situation, our sympathetic nervous system is activated and a primitive ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response kicks in. Our body is subsequently flooded with adrenaline and we are poised to make an unconscious decision to help safeguard our survival.
While our basic human instincts remain fundamentally the same as our evolutionary ancestors, the world around us has not. We are now a long way from the sabre-toothed tiger, and even the infamous screech of the Internet dial-up tone, and find ourselves in a state of constant digital overload. We snap, share, like, retweet and comment on almost every aspect of our lives and the lives of those inside and outside of our communities.
There are of course significant benefits to having these digital tools at our fingertips, we can share our lives with friends and family, engage with organizations and brands, and access a wealth of information and resources – including which recalled products or snarled-up roads we might want to avoid! However, in the age of sharing, we’ve seen individuals taking to their smart phones to circulate images and videos of terrorist attacks and other crises online.
The attacker responsible for the deaths of fifty people at two mosques in New Zealand in March 2019, live-streamed his attack on Facebook for 17 minutes, which was viewed 4,000 times before it was removed. Two years before when a terrorist attack saw a car run over pedestrians on London’s Westminster Bridge, and a police officer fatally stabbed, photos of casualties flooded social media.
This begs the question has ‘film’ become a fourth f – a newly evolved basic human responses in life-threatening situations?! Aside from the obvious ethical implications that this phenomenon brings, it should also invite us to question the impact that this could have on an organization caught up in a crisis.
In most cases a crisis escalates extremely quickly which means that a company must act quickly to ensure control. Traditional crisis communication refers to ‘the golden hour’, the theoretical time within which an organization has the opportunity to establish the facts and most importantly, its response. The growth of digital and social media has dramatically reduced the golden hour to little more than a few seconds. Anyone with a smartphone is now a citizen journalist who can catapult news of a crisis, and your brand, into the public domain almost instantaneously and all-too-often inaccurately.
Organizations now need to be even more prepared than ever for crisis. Are there sufficient resources in place to be drawn upon at a moment’s notice, including pre-prepared template holding statements? Are you aware of all your stakeholders, both internally and externally, and how to communicate appropriately with them during an incident? Do you have trained crisis media spokespeople on hand?
These are just some questions to consider as part of an organization’s wider crisis management planning, but there are so many more. No matter how thorough an organization’s approach to risk mitigation we all know the unexpected can still happen. The best thing your organization can do is be prepared to communicate in a timely, professional and empathetic manner.
Victoria Cross is Head of Instinctif Partners’ Business Resilience Practice. Instinctif offers CrisisCommsOptic, a solution to help benchmark your crisis communications readiness against industry best practices.