Tuesday, July 28, 2009

When communication causes more problems

One of the biggest questions facing crisis and response leaders is when communication can cause more harm than good. For example, some companies are aware of a bad situation brewing but it hasn't hit the papers--yet--and may not. If you go out and talk about it, you may bring attention to something that might quietly go away. But, if you don't and it explodes, one of the first questions you will have to answer is why didn't you tell us about this.

I'm generally going to fall on the side of communicating early and often, because I have seen that is one of the most important things in building trust. I'm also going to strongly support the idea that if there is bad news to be told, tell it yourself rather than letting someone else (like the media) tell it for you.

That being said, sometimes organizations speak out when they should just be quiet. One case in point recently is Horizon Realty. When an upset tenant tweeted (that's using Twitter for those who may not know) a complaint, the company sued for $50,000. Problem is the twitterer-complainer only had 22 followers, so at the most a handful of people would have seen her complaint. Now, due to their own stupidity, the rest of the world knows about it and knows her complaint as well. To make things a whole lot worse, their spokesperson said, "we're a sue first, ask questions later sort of organization."

Hmmm, sometimes it's just better to be quiet. For more on this, I've also blogged at crisisblogger.

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