Crisis Communications Tip: Fill the Information Vaccum
In a crisis communications situation, when the organization is attempting to make sense of the incident, there is a strong tendency for crisis managers to withhold information. The reasoning is that they need time to figure things out. Unfortunately, in the era of social media, this is a mistake!
In the past when information flow was hierarchical, crisis managers could afford to wait as stakeholders only had a few sources of information and it took time for news of the incident to spread. In today's information environment, information literally flows continuously and via networks of friends, co-workers, activists and family. Thus, even as the organization is trying to make sense of the incident, people are concurrently finding out about the incident and talking about it.
And, in situations where there is no official information, stakeholders will latch onto whatever they can pick-up and speculate. Without any official information, stakeholders may also be easily manipulated by people with negative agendas or simply misunderstand the situation and draw the wrong conclusions. Once these take on a life of their own, it then becomes that much more difficult for the organization to debunk the false perceptions and protect its reputation.
As the study by Stephan Lewandowsky and Ullrich Ecker from the University of Western Australia, Collen Seifert and Norbert Schwarz from the University of Michigan and John Cook from the University of Queensland and University of Western Australia has proven, first information "sticks" with the audience and, even if proven false subsequently, will remain "real" in the minds of the audience.
In short, in a crisis, organizations must remember to fill the information vaccum with regular press updates or via social media. Failure to do so, will only make reputation management more difficult.