How an organization communicates during a crisis can make or break its reputation and, in some circumstances, determine whether it will be able to weather the storm. Here we look at examples of how some major organizations communicated during a crisis and discuss two of the most effective avenues to use for crisis communication.
Big Electronics Brand Gets Burned
A newly released smartphone is often a hot item. But none was as hot as the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, which hit the market in 2016 as a competitor to the Apple iPhone. The Samsung phone’s tendency to explode or catch fire got it quickly banned from use on airplanes. The manufacturer launched a recall on the phones, later replacing them with “certified-safe” versions. To Samsung’s embarrassment, the replacement phones experienced the same issues, which were traced to faulty batteries. The company cancelled the model at a cost of about $5 billion and was left red-faced after both their much-hyped product and its replacement crashed and—literally—burned.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 debacle left a number of people with injuries and property damage and spurred a class action lawsuit. It was also a tremendous public relations disaster for the company. While the initial incidents were damaging, the later incidents with the certified-safe phones were the final nail in the Galaxy Note 7’s coffin. Some suggested that Samsung rushed the phones with replacement batteries back to the market too quickly. Further, Samsung was widely criticized for their lack of transparency—the failure to communicate honestly and openly—during the crisis.
Samsung clearly should’ve chosen more effective methods for communicating with the public. They would’ve been better served by not rushing their product and its replacement to market. After possibly rushing the initial release, the company could’ve chosen to acknowledge their mistake, apologizing and communicating that the replacement models might not be available quickly but that it was important to ensure they’re tested fully and proven to be safe. By requesting patience and understanding from the public, Samsung might’ve saved the product, caused fewer injuries and less property damage, and mitigated the damage to their own brand name.
Humanitarian Organization Gets “Slizzerd” on Social Media
Every social media user fears accidentally posting information that makes them look foolish or compromises their privacy. One such infamous incident occurred when a Twitter user tweeted the following on what she thought was her personal Twitter account, but was actually the account of her employer, the American Red Cross:
“Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer…. when we drink we do it right #gettngslizzerd”
This was clearly not something that the American Red Cross was trying to communicate to the public. To its credit, the high-profile humanitarian organization embraced the mistake in a humorous follow-up tweet: “We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys.” The beer producer, Dogfish Head, also chimed in on Twitter by encouraging donations to the American Red Cross.
Humor may not be an appropriate way to communicate in a crisis where people have been hurt and property has been damaged, but for an innocent, embarrassing social media error like this one, it can be an effective method of communicating with the public, taking control of the conversation, and defusing a regrettable situation.
The Medium Is the Message
Noted communication theorist Marshall McLuhan famously coined the phrase “The medium is the message” to underscore the importance of studying communication. In the context of crisis communication, that expression can be seen as a reminder that it’s important to choose the correct medium for your message. Communication through social media is fast, cost-effective, and has a wide reach, which makes it a great avenue for an initial response to a crisis situation—provided the tone of the message is appropriate. For tweets, where character count matters and readers have a short attention span, messages must be brief and carefully worded.
When the matter is serious, however, 280 characters may not be sufficient for an adequate response. Press conferences are a way for an important person, such as a company CEO or COO, to speak directly about the crisis. A personal appearance, in contrast to a written message that some may view as impersonal, shows that the company understands the problem and gives them a chance to explain in detail how they plan to address it. This also allows for greater transparency, since most press conferences include a question-and-answer element. If a company is willing to openly answer questions, it goes a long way toward mending any damage they may have caused.
The Value of a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Program
Clear, direct, timely communication is important in any context, crisis or not. You can discover how to become a more effective communicator in The University of Texas Permian Basin’s online Bachelor of Arts in Communication program. With employers consistently naming communication among the top skills they want in a new employee, this can be a truly career-enhancing degree. Our communication bachelor’s program emphasizes both written and verbal communication and offers a solid grounding in the topic, spanning from the earliest methods of communication to today’s elaborate communication networks.
If you’re interested in crisis communication, you can take the elective course Crisis Communication (COMM 3342) as part of your program. This course covers a broad range of crisis types with an emphasis on corporate crises and provides proactive strategies for effectively dealing with a crisis.
Our Bachelor of Arts in Communication program is presented in a 100% online, asynchronous format that allows you to earn your degree at your own pace, virtually anywhere. Most courses last just eight weeks, and you can begin your program during any of our six start dates per year.
How should you communicate during a crisis? A bachelor’s degree in communication from UT Permian Basin will show you some effective methods for saving the day—and your organization’s reputation.