It took hackers just a few minutes and 11 words to tank the US stock market last year, when a hacker took hold of the AAP’s Twitter account and posted the false report: “Breaking: Two explosions in the White House and Barack Obama injured.”
Jordan-Meier, who wrote The Four Stages of Highly Effective Crisis Management: how to manage the media in the digital age, said a share price can drop quickly in response to social media “news”, whether the information being shared is fact or fiction, showing that the impact of platforms like Twitter cannot be overstated.
If you don’t create a crisis strategy in advance mapping out a clear path forward, you run the serious risk of high-value staff jumping ship. Consider the case at Ten Network a few years back, when Lachlan Murdoch and James Packer bought into the company: coupled with a new programming direction and low ratings, the change of ownership prompted several key staff to flee, right at the point where the organisation their expertise and experience most.
Key HR takeaways
In a crisis, you need to be active on social media by:
Tweets and status updates should be written in advance or prepared in template form, said Jordan-Meier. “Even if you don’t know all the facts, you can say, ‘We’re aware and we’re investigating and we’ll update you as soon as we know more’.”
It is just as important to communicate clearly to your internal stakeholders – including employees, suppliers and other vested interests – as it is to communicate with the public. “The CEO should handle it externally, but internally we share that as an executive team,” said Mel Tunbridge, HRD, SBS. “We’re interchangeable in terms of being the face of the organisation to the organisation.”
Designating a spokesperson
Whatever the crisis, “You never want to put the HR director in front of the 6 o’clock news, because that demonstrates to the public that the CEO doesn’t take it seriously enough to be there,” said Chris Lamb, HRD, LendLease Australia. “Of course, we (HR) do a lot of work behind the scenes, but we should never be the ones to front up to the media to talk about it.”
One hour: that is roughly how long an organisation has to respond to a looming crisis, both internally and externally, before it takes on a potentially damaging life of its own on social media.