The Rise of the ‘Authentic Voice’ in Crisis Communications

One of the challenges that all communicators experience during a crisis is balancing transparency and the need for authentic responses with the requirements of legal teams protecting a business’s liability when trouble comes knocking.

Recently we saw a crisis explode on Twitter pertaining to a large global brand. The legal team took too long to approve the recommended responses to those defaming the brand on this most public of forums. The result was that the issue escalated, with key influencers weighing in on the conversation while the brand remained silent at the crucial time when they could have filled the void with facts and an authentic message.

The silence was not the only issue. The crux of my blog post is the need for a brand, or better yet a spokesperson, to communicate in a relatable and authentic manner. It’s a known fact that social media users do not frequently engage with brand names on the likes of Twitter, as users want to trust and believe in whom they follow. A person is a lot more credible than the blank face of a local or international brand.

Whilst researching this piece, I decided to do a little exercise that explored authentic versus non-authentic words.  After all, we’re in the business of story-telling, which is essentially the stringing together of a variety of words to communicate and connect with the broader public.  My exercise yielded the following result and I believe communications people would do well to bear these in mind when next writing a statement or response to a crisis situation.

Sorry / apologise Hereby confirm that an incident took place
Here’s what we know right now No details available
Clarity on the issue Confidential / no details available
This is what we’re doing Will keep you updated
Continuing to communicate To be confirmed
Open channel of communications We’ll update you when more details are available
Welcome enquiries We cannot comment further
Doing everything in our power to resolve this Obscure intentions of working with officials

My interest was piqued a few weeks ago when reading Fleishman-Hillard’s internal newsletter for the EMEA region, IMPACT.

FH London launched an ‘Authenticity Gap’ study earlier this month that analyses what consumers expect from companies and how their actual experience differs from those expectations.

The research offers a new framework with unique insights in 20 different industry categories.  It steps beyond traditional reputation research to ask not just want consumers are experiencing with companies today, but also what they expect from them.

The research also identifies behaviors consumers most associate with authentic companies, providing insights and understanding companies’ reputation and perception in the public sphere.  Lastly, the research also identifies actionable steps that companies can take to bridge this gap for consumers.

I’ll be sure to update you on the key findings relevant to crisis communications in my next post so watch this space!