When basketball star Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash along with eight other people, the reporting of the incident was rapid and often inaccurate.
News organisations rushing to break big news is nothing new, but the digital age has increased that speed dramatically and that resulted, in this incident, in plenty of mistakes being made.
ABC reported that all four of Mr Bryant’s children ‘were believed to have been killed’ and had to apologise – and suspend the journalist - when officials later confirmed the death of one of them, Gianna.
UPDATE: ABC News now pulling back on report that Kobe Bryant's daughters were on helicopter.— Tisha Lewis FOX 5 DC (@TishaLewis) January 26, 2020
ABC is reporting that Kobe's children were in the helicopter while other outlets are reporting with sources that they were not. Someone messed this up big time and it's absolutely not okay.— Caleb Hull (@CalebJHull) January 26, 2020
Other reports wrongly suggested on social media that Rick Lake, a former LA Lakers teammate of Mr Bryant had died in the incident and President Donald Trump tweeted that four people were believed to have died in the incident.
The desire to be first with the news had led to a range of conflicting and misleading reports and complete confusion.
But why are we telling you this?
Well, whether it is a tragic incident like this one outside Los Angeles, or something else that triggers a crisis media management incident like a cyber-attack, an environmental spill, a product recall or redundancies, the 24-hour news cycle and social media mean that a story is going to be covered at breakneck speed.
The traditional ‘golden hour’ that organisations had to start communicating and protecting their reputation is a thing of the past. In fact, waiting an hour now would create a damaging information vacuum.
And this presents brands with an uncomfortable challenge – good crisis media management tells you that responding slowly is a sin and that you need to get ahead of the problem, but how can you do that in the early stages when you are unlikely to have much information?
Let’s say, for example, that it wasn’t ABC that had wrongly reported about the identity of some of the victims in the helicopter crash and that it had instead come from one of the authorities responding to the incident and quickly wanting to communicate what was happening. The damage to its reputation would have been immeasurable.
Part of the answer to this crisis media management conundrum is holding statements, prepared in advance, which can be easily adapted to cover the incident you are experiencing.
An effective holding statement will buy an organisation some crucial time until it is able to get a better understanding of what has happened and issue something more detailed.
It will also help prevent the spread of rumour, speculation and misinformation and position the organisation as a trusted source of news.
Ideally, a holding statement will show concern and sympathy for those affected by the incident, the steps that are being taken to rectify the situation and reassurance. And because a holding statement will only hold for so long, there should also be some expectation of when journalists and social media followers can expect further information.
To link this back to where we began, there was a good example of a holding statement following the incident on January 26.
As the makers of the helicopter that had crashed, Sikorsky was likely to face interest from both mainstream and social media.
And it issued a tweet which showed both sympathy and action.
It said: “We extend our sincerest condolences to all those affected by today’s Sikorsky S-76B accident in Calabasas, California. We have been in contact with the NTSB and stand ready to provide assistance and support to the investigative authorities and our customer.”
We extend our sincerest condolences to all those affected by today’s Sikorsky S-76B accident in Calabasas, California. We have been in contact with the NTSB and stand ready to provide assistance and support to the investigative authorities and our customer.— Sikorsky (@Sikorsky) January 26, 2020
A second tweet provided some reassurance. It said: “Safety is a top priority; if there are any actionable findings from the investigations, we will inform our S-76 customers.”
Safety is our top priority; if there are any actionable findings from the investigation, we will inform our S-76 customers.— Sikorsky (@Sikorsky) January 26, 2020
The other key factor in meeting the speed demanded by the digital age is to regularly test your crisis media management plans.
You can’t afford to go into a crisis not knowing whether your plans work, whether you can respond quickly (particularly if the incident happens out of hours), or whether everyone in your crisis team fully knows their roles.
Download our FREE eBook to find out more about planning for a crisis. It includes a checklist to helping you identify the right spokesperson, messaging templates and a risk register to help you identify your organisation’s vulnerabilities.
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