How Different Crisis Response Approaches Affect Outcomes

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There aren't many do-overs regarding an organization's initial crisis response. Not only does that initial response set the tone, but it is the foundation for subsequent reporting and everything that follows. In a rush to respond to a potential scandal, an organization may become defensive, rushing to defend themselves and their point of view instead of focusing their message on the viewpoint of their audience. 

After a crisis event occurs, an organization has a narrow window of time to respond effectively, which means that a company must be prepared to give its best response. Trying to repair an initial poor response often takes things from bad to worse, necessitating that it has to be right the first time. 

A clear and direct response can help to assure stakeholders that justice will prevail and cause the social media mob to search for a more interesting narrative. However, an unclear and uncertain response can lead to widespread criticism, instigating the mob to spring into action to teach whatever lesson they believe the organization and its leaders need to learn and causing an organization to experience severe and long-lasting consequences. 

Courtroom Sciences knows that no brand or industry is immune to a crisis. Our crisis and litigation communications experts can help you be prepared to respond to any situation with policies and practices that protect your business, brand, and reputation.

Why does crisis response matter?

In the arena of public perception, an organization's initial response to a crisis or litigation situation sets the tone for how others judge them and will have a significant and lingering impact. Organizations must understand that once a story goes viral, they have little or no control over whether or not a social media mob will form, which means that the crisis response must resonate the first time. Organizations must focus on effective communication strategies and tactics, adapt as the crisis unfolds, and concentrate on creating the correct narrative that clarifies the organization's core values.


The Consequences of an Unclear and Defensive Response

We live in an era where one solitary negative post or comment concerning even a well-established company can quickly spin out of control and turn into a social media crisis. This is particularly so when this single incident pairs with an initial response perceived as self-serving and/or tone-deaf. Social media mob mentality can cause a narrative to take hold, harming a longstanding and trusted brand.

For United Airlines, it was the initial response to a single incident that led to a cascading effect, which, in the end, cast the company as a villain, harming innocent passengers, including children and pets, and causing the company to lose billions in market value. The inciting incident began in 2017 when a 69-year-old physician was physically removed from one of United Airlines' planes by security after refusing to surrender his seat when United overbooked his flight. 

United's first response was to blame the physician, stating that the passenger was "disruptive and belligerent" and that aviation officers were "left with no choice" but to "assist in removing the customer." However, in addition to the statements from United, the public also saw videos of the passenger being dragged, bruised, and bleeding from the plane. Viewing the statement from the airline and the video side by side, the narrative took on a different tone, precisely one of indifference, arrogance, and victim-blaming. This captured the world's attention and led to a massive response on social media, where millions of people expressed their outrage and fed off each other's posts.

Even after United reversed course, accepting full responsibility and apologizing, they never detailed what behaviors they would be changing to ensure similar incidents did not occur in the future. While United Airlines lost $1.3 billion in market value due to this incident, the crisis didn't end there. Due to a series of missteps at the airline, the social media mob continued to tap into the same narrative structure, painting United as a bully and turning the initial response into an ongoing scandal because a social media mob mentality had taken root.


Decisive Responses Protect Your Company's Reputation

The same year that United Airlines learned from their crisis response, Google was also going viral, but with far fewer lasting consequences. An internal memo was leaked where a Google engineer wrote, "Maybe there aren't so many women at Google because women are less interested in sitting around and staring at code all day."

Rather than becoming defensive or blame-shifting, Google responded quickly and effectively, making it clear that the memo did not reflect the company's values or beliefs and firing the engineer that wrote the memo. 

While there was an initial flash of outrage across social media, Google's clear and direct response stopped the story from evolving into a brand-damaging scandal. Google's market value experienced barely a blip, returning to its previous levels and expected course only a few days later. 


Different Crisis Response Approaches Lead to Massively Different Outcomes

For United Airlines, their crisis response led to a yearlong mob response, yet for Google, they were able to mitigate the negative harm and disappear from the headlines after a few days. 

While the reasons for the disparity are more multifaceted than a single simple answer, there is one clear difference: Google's response was clear and direct. Most importantly, Google was not defensive, they did not engage in blame-shifting, and their response contained actions, not just words, stating that the engineer was in the wrong and firing him. 

These different responses illustrate how a proper crisis response displays genuine concern for stakeholders, acts aggressively to protect those interests, and displays through action that its values align with its key stakeholders. 

At Courtroom Sciences, we know that a company's crisis team is incomplete unless it includes social psychology practitioners who are adept at creating psychology-based messaging that will resonate in a crisis. Our crisis and litigation communications experts will assist in developing a highly responsive crisis response plan with policies and practices that protect your company's reputation. Speak with one of our critical communications experts to learn more. 


Key Takeaways

●  After a crisis event occurs, an organization has a narrow window of time to respond effectively.

●  An organization's initial response to a crisis or litigation situation sets the tone for how others judge them and can have a significant and lingering impact.

●  An unclear and uncertain response can lead to widespread criticism, causing an organization to experience serious and long-lasting consequences. 

●  A proper crisis response displays genuine concern for stakeholders, acts aggressively to protect those interests, and demonstrates through action that its values align with its key stakeholders. 

●  Courtroom Sciences' crisis and litigation communications experts will assist in developing a highly responsive crisis response plan.


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