This morning while reading the news, I came across a tragic story about another bus crash, this one in Virginia. The headline read, "Company in Fatal Bus Crash Often Cited." The lead of the AP story read, "The company that operates the bus that overturned on a Virginia highway, killing four and injuring several others early Tuesday, has been involved in several accidents over the last two years." It seems the company (Sky Express) has been cited for 17 unsafe driving violations since 2009, three of them classified as serious. The federal government has since shut the company down, according to the New York Times. Does Sky Express have a potential crisis on its hands?
Sky Express is a route provider for a company called GoToBus.com which sells seats for many different bus companies. GoToBus.com has a Facebook page and a Twitter account. The Sky Express generic website (this morning) gave no indication of any of the events described above, or of the fact that they had been shut down by the government. GoToBus.com, on the other hand, did answer a question on their Facebook page about the crash with: "One of our service providers has cancelled their schedule, we still have other service providers covering these routes. Tickets are still available on GotoBus.com." The comment was posted within 30 minutes of the original question. Their Twitter feed hasn't posted since May 27.
The fact that Sky Express has no social media presence doesn't disqualify them from acting with a social mindset. Remember, it's not just the tools that make social, it's the actions as well. Later in the same AP article I read, " David Wong, a manager in the Sky Express office in Charlotte declined to comment." Strike one Sky Express. A social mindset would have issued a simple statement to the effect: "We are saddened by the recent tragic event in Virginia and our hearts go out to the families of the victims. We are currently trying to gather more information on the incident." Simple, caring, social, not fodder for lawsuits. I would hope the manager in the office where the bus had originated would have access to such a statement. Declining to comment is like declining to care.
In the next line of the article I read, " A telephone message left Tuesday for his attorney, Ruth Yang, wasn't immediately returned." Strike two, Sky Express. As David Meerman Scott reminds us in Real-Time Marketing and PR, there is no 24-hour news cycle anymore. A social mindset understands that people expect answers now. Silence is a sign of negligence, whether we like it or not.
The social mindset in crisis consists of three elements. Use them whether you have social channels or not:
1. Transparency: In my mind, this doesn't mean living in a glass house. It means living in a welcome house where the door is open, curtains are not drawn, and there are a couple of chairs on the porch to sit and visit in. When you ring the doorbell, someone answers with a smile. It doesn't mean telling all your secrets, it means being willing to talk--always--and answering the questions that are important to others, not to you.
2. Honor immediacy: Whether it's media, internal staff, customers, whatever...have some immediate responses crafted ahead of time for a number of different scenarios, and don't be afraid to say you don't have the facts all gathered yet. Christopher Barger, former social media director at General Motors once said, "I don't think there's anything wrong with saying, 'I don't know the answer to that right now, and it's going to take me a little while to track down the right person.'" It's a truthful response, and it lets people know you care about making yourself available.
3. Remember, it's not about you. I think this is the hardest one for most organizations. When you're under the microscope, or have herds of media knocking at your door, it's hard to remember that the public doesn't really care about you. They want to know what happened and what you're going to do to make it right. All we need for a reminder here is the backlash from BP exec Tony Howard's famous response about the oil spill crisis: " There's no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back."
Whether you use social media channels or not, crisis response requires a social mindset. Have you got one?