The crisis in crisis communications.

If you have a plan, is it one that will work today?

Over the years, we’ve helped lots of companies, large and small, with crisis communications. We’ve been counsel during crises, and in many more cases, we’ve worked with organizations as they develop plans for events that may or may not occur.

There are lots of ways to approach crisis planning. Some companies go into great detail, rehearse many different scenarios, and even have pre-prepared communications ready to go. Others may have educated their staff on key procedures and practiced how to assess situations, communicate internally, and create the messages that they want to release to the public.

But in any case, if the plans haven’t been re-evaluated in the last two years, they’re probably obsolete. Because the way messages travel now (and the speed with which they can travel) has changed dramatically.

Consider these scenarios:

  • During the Virginia Tech shootings, much of the communications to students, faculty (and especially parents) occurred with the school’s website. This required not just posting of information, but key web design changes to manage increased traffic.

  • During the San Diego fires last year, when cell towers were overloaded, citizens and authorities used tools like Twitter to communicate escape routes.
  • Business Week Tech Reporter Sarah Lacy found herself in a crisis about her interview with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at the South By Southwest conference DURING her interview, thanks to Twitter messages being sent back and forth throughout the audience about how bad her interview was. She eventually lost control of the interview to the audience.

So any crisis communications plan—no matter how well thought out—which doesn’t take into account new electronic methods (and their value) is creating a situation where management will likely have to play catch up. Not what you want to do during a crisis.