Has the crisis communications ‘golden hour’ disappeared?

Aug 23, 2019

This week’s bulletin has been written by guest author Victoria Cross, who suggests that the rapid growth of social media has resulted in the disappearance of the traditional ‘golden hour’.

Fight, flight, freeze… or film?

Evolutionary science tells us that when faced with a potentially dangerous situation, our sympathetic nervous system is activated and a primitive ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response kicks in. Our body is subsequently flooded with adrenaline and we are poised to make an unconscious decision to help safeguard our survival.

While our basic human instincts remain fundamentally the same as our evolutionary ancestors, the world around us has not. We are now a long way from the sabre-toothed tiger, and even the infamous screech of the Internet dial-up tone, and find ourselves in a state of constant digital overload. We snap, share, like, retweet and comment on almost every aspect of our lives and the lives of those inside and outside of our communities.

There are of course significant benefits to having these digital tools at our fingertips, we can share our lives with friends and family, engage with organisations and brands, and access a wealth of information and resources – including which recalled products or snarled-up roads we might want to avoid! However, in the age of sharing, we’ve seen individuals taking to their smart phones to circulate images and videos of terrorist attacks and other crises online.

The attacker responsible for the deaths of fifty people at two mosques in New Zealand in March 2019, live-streamed his attack on Facebook for 17 minutes, which was viewed 4,000 times before it was removed. Two years before, when a terrorist attack saw a car run over pedestrians on London’s Westminster Bridge and a police officer fatally stabbed, photos of casualties flooded social media.

This begs the question has ‘film’ become a fourth f – a newly evolved basic human response in life-threatening situations?! Aside from the obvious ethical implications that this phenomenon brings, it should also invite us to question the impact that this could have on an organisation caught up in a crisis.

In most cases a crisis escalates extremely quickly which means that a company must act quickly to ensure control. Traditional crisis communication refers to ‘the golden hour’, the theoretical time within which an organisation has the opportunity to establish the facts and most importantly, its response. The growth of digital and social media has dramatically reduced the golden hour to little more than a few seconds. Anyone with a smartphone is now a citizen journalist who can catapult news of a crisis, and your brand, into the public domain almost instantaneously and all-too-often inaccurately.

Organisations now need to be even more prepared than ever for a crisis. Are there sufficient resources in place to be drawn upon at a moment’s notice, including pre-prepared template holding statements? Are you aware of all your stakeholders, both internally and externally, and how to communicate appropriately with them during an incident? Do you have trained crisis media spokespeople on hand?

These are just some questions to consider as part of an organisation’s wider crisis management planning, but there are so many more. No matter how thorough an organisation’s approach to risk mitigation, we all know the unexpected can still happen. The best thing your organisation can do is be prepared to communicate in a timely, professional and empathetic manner.

This article was first published on Continuity Central and has been written by Victoria Cross, Head of Instinctif Partners’ Business Resilience Practice.

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