In the 21st century political world, there’s a debate over borders and building walls to protect them.
In the communications world, if recent crises have taught us anything, it’s that no border and no wall can stop a crisis from spreading.
The historical barriers of language, time zone, newspaper printing schedules and television satellite availability are no longer speed bumps slowing the speed of global damage to an organization’s reputation in the 21st century. Our always-on, internet-connected world has made every regional crisis a potential international crisis.
How do I know this? Because in recent weeks, I’ve been asked to comment on the United Airlines crisis by media outlets as far-flung as South Korea and the United Kingdom.
In any given year, WordWrite manages crisis PR for about a dozen major crises, 10 of which are never public and a couple of which dominate the news. Because of our team’s background in journalism and crisis communication, we’re often asked to comment on crises in the news.
I was surprised that two of my recent United interviews would be with the Alex Johnson morning show on TBA eFM, the top-rated English-language radio station in South Korea and the weekly magazine The Drum, which started in Glasgow, Scotland.
What’s most interesting about the interviews is the similar thread in both: How does United’s poor handling of the “re-accommodation” of Dr. David Dao affect its international standing?
When Dr. Dao was dragged off a United flight for refusing to give up his seat to United crew traveling to another destination, the event was captured by other passengers and posted to social media almost immediately, driving the global news cycle. United’s clumsy and tone-deaf initial responses only fed the global media beast.
Overseas, Dr. Dao’s Asian heritage became the focal point of coverage. Alex Johnson wanted to know how United’s handling of the former Vietnamese refugee would affect United’s desire to grow its business in China, where Weibo, the larger-than-Twitter Chinese variation of the social media platform was consumed for days with the crisis.
At The Drum, Ronan Shields focused on the social media spread of the crisis, using the great statistics that social media provides to show just how damaging the crisis was far beyond the domestic airport gate in Chicago where the incident happened.
In his article, Shields quoted me as saying that, in the 21st century, every passenger is a potential publisher and that as a result, airlines need to revamp their social media policies and be more proactive when something goes wrong.
Air travel is among the most public of industries. It’s hard to hide a jetliner or what happens on it. But really – regardless of the industry that you’re in or what your organization does to provide value, the same rule applies:
In the 21st century, every customer, employee, neighbor, supplier or other stakeholder is a potential publisher. How is your organization factoring this into your crisis communication planning?
If you’re not, it’s time to start. You may never fly the friendly skies of United. And you may hope to never experience the unfriendly crisis that the Dr. Dao incident created. But what’s your plan? How will your organization make sure that a seemingly small problem doesn’t become an international crisis that demands a full-court press from your crisis communication team?
A good place to start is to make sure your team is prepared to answer media questions in the midst of an evolving crisis. Click below to learn more on our approach to this challenge.