Crisis Management: Attacked On the Web!: Crisis response
Are you prepared to deal with this?
Several years ago I alerted companies that Environmental Defense Fund website www.scorecard.org may accuse them of being polluters. One client had already complained that the site unfairly portrayed it as a polluter using out-of-date data filed with the EPA.
Sure enough, a few weeks later a reader referred to Scorecard in a letter to the Davie County Enterprise-Record. The reader said in part, “I was surprised to learn about four prominent Davie County companies that rank so high on the list of major polluters.” He then named them.
Check it out!
Before reading further, I suggest that you review Scorecard. Even if your company is not listed, you will immediately recognize the potential threat of the Internet to your company’s reputation.
Take it seriously!
I also suggest that you take web attacks seriously. Consider Intel’s Pentium crisis of 1994. An Internet complaint started rolling the snowball of public criticism of flaws in Intel’s new computer chip. That led to an avalanche of (mostly self-inflicted) PR problems that Intel spent $500 million to correct.
That was 10 years ago. Today, with Internet surfers at 100 million worldwide and increasing by two million a month, imagine the reach of an unchallenged web attack. Yet, many companies are not thinking about it.
We didn’t know we were there!
After I sent out my Scorecard alert memo, several surprised executives contacted me.
- One said he had no idea that Scorecard portrayed his plants as environmental threats. He said the website data were misleading, but a visitor couldn’t discern the truth.
- Another company’s official said the Scorecard information was out-of-date, that past problems had been corrected, but a visitor couldn’t know it.
- The individual who first alerted me to Scorecard received a letter from a concerned citizen. This company official also claimed the website mischaracterized her plant as a polluter.
(Environmental Defense Fund spokesperson Karen Florini says Scorecard’s data comes from the companies’ own reports to the EPA. However, she admits the EPA numbers are ridiculously old, and that EDF is pushing EPA to release data faster. She also said EDF realizes that data don’t tell the whole story, and EDF hopes soon to put company responses on Scorecard.)
So what do you do if you are attacked on the web or face the possibility of it? Some strategies:
1. Fix the problem.
First things first. Operate unassailably. In the case of Scorecard, that means make sure you meet environmental standards. There is nothing like being right. (One company highlighted by Scorecard now updates me on its environmental improvement efforts.)
2. Take care of victims and perceived victims.
Be sure that if your business injured or endangered anyone that you dealt with these “victims” fairly. You don’t want enemies who will feed the media mill if an Internet attack generates unwanted publicity.
3. Communicate with critical audiences
Convey your problem-solving actions to all “audiences” affected by your company – including regulators, stockholders, employees, customers, politicians, vendors, and even neighbors. If they know you are trying to do the right thing, they are more likely to be allies than opponents. (Of course ideological opponents may never be satisfied.)
The next suggestions position you to react quickly after a web attack. Remember that crisis communications is “common sense at lightning speed”. Your goal is to be able to communicate rapidly to prevent unnecessary harm to your reputation.
4. Draft your crisis communications plan
Know your vulnerabilities, who will speak in a crisis, what they will say, and how they will convey it. You want to rapidly offset accusations before they take hold. Without a plan, you may lose precious time.
Internet expert Alan Sterling of Electric Paving Company in Winston-Salem also suggests steps 5 and 6.
5. Set aside a website response page
Since almost everyone has a website these days, create and set aside an emergency response page. Then you can announce publicly – or through the appropriate channels – this special site by name so that media and interested people can visit to get the “whole story”. Design the site so that your provider can take information from you, insert it, and post it within minutes or an hour or two at most. (Normal website updates may take 24 to 48 hours – disastrously slow in a fast-moving crisis.) Highlight this emergency page on your normal website. Make the site name easy to remember and include it in any e-mail you send.
6. Monitor the Internet
There are services for hire that will scan the Internet for mention of your company. They can be expensive, but if you are vulnerable, being forewarned is forearmed.