A sense of rumour
Many crisis management plans include the very big assumption that staff won’t talk to the media, usually because an edict along those lines was issued in the dim and distant past. Some plans might even contain a prompt to give them a little reminder, which is all well and good.
But firstly, that edict in itself won’t guarantee their silence. Secondly, the news media aren’t the only communications channel to your stakeholders, even though it’s the area that often gets all the focus – and paranoia. Thirdly and, perhaps, most importantly, is the fact that every one of your employees is a potential public relations representative, whether your crisis management team wants them to be or not!
You can issue edicts not to talk to the media ‘til you’re blue in the face but that won’t stop your people talking to other people. Think about it – you can’t tell them to stop talking to customers, suppliers or other stakeholders, particularly if their normal jobs involve that contact. And then there’s the huge, wriggly can of worms that social media provides, although that’s a topic for another day.
So rather than just telling them who they can’t talk to, do you tell them who they can? Do you give them any guidance on what information they can share? Do you keep them sufficiently informed about what’s going on and what messages you want communicated?
The trouble is, in the absence of hard information, the rumour mill will very quickly start up and fill the void. That’s its job and it does it very well. But once it starts it can be very difficult to control and almost impossible to stop.
People will talk, whether you like it or not. But if you keep them informed you’ll have some influence over the content of those conversations, rather than them consisting mostly of rumour and speculation.
So make sure your crisis communications plan contains, at its core, a well thought out rumour control strategy – which is largely about allowing people to talk, but ensuring that you provide them with something to talk about.