I am sharing a case related to the blurring of lines between internal and external communications functions. With social media straddling both worlds it is inevitable that communicators will often be called upon to address issues beyond their spheres of influence.
A disgruntled employee anonymously creates a page on a social networking site and invites friends to post derogatory comments on the company’s culture, policies, work ethics and other staff. He uses the company name in his content. It slowly gets eyeballs and can snowball into a public relations nightmare. This scenario can play out in any organization regardless of size, industry or geography.
Here is a conversation within Trigger Ltd as they come to terms with the crisis and how they must handle it.
Vikram leads Marketing and Communications for the organization which has a mix of 15000 blue and white collar workers working in the telecom sector and runs operations in 6 cities in India and 10 abroad. He is asked by his CEO, Raj to meet with him and discuss the issue with stakeholders including HR and the communications team.
Vikram: “This is really serious. We need to get to the bottom of this.”
Asha: (works in Vikram’s team as a social media manager) “I am yet to find out who started the page. I need some time to get this information. The person has blocked ‘likes’ and I can’t figure out the location.”
Vikram: (visibly upset) “This is not acceptable. How dare he defame the company? I will report this to the city’s police cyber -crime department and lodge a case. I want the person sued.”
Manu: (the PR Head): “Vikram, look we can’t take such actions. It will blow up in our face. This is a ticking PR time bomb. I suggest we avoid involving outside parties at this stage. I am already hearing that the press wants to know more about this case.”
Vikram: “I know it but how else can we stop this person from doing damage?”
Alex: (the HR Head) “If we can figure out the person, I can send out a warning that such actions will lead to dismissal from the organization. Employees are already talking about this page and we can delay things any longer”.
Raj: (The CEO shakes his head and retorts) “This is an issue with our culture. I need to fix it. If this person can do it and get so many ‘likes’ it is reflective of how our employees think. What can I do to intervene?”
Alex: “Raj, I suggest you stay out of this till we get a proper grip of the issue. Let Manu or Vikram step up and do some communications around it. It is about communications and social media is one of the mediums we use and choose to use to communicate with our prospects, clients and stakeholders.”
Manu: “Hey, I am not sure this is the role of the PR team to intervene as yet. While I can be prepared for a fallout this isn’t my area. I think Asha needs to own this case since it relates to social media.”
Vikram: “I am not completely sure. I am not sure Marketing and Communications can do much at this point until we get more clarity from Asha. Since it is related to an employee it must be HR’s responsibility to tackle it.”
Raj: “Are you saying we just sit back and wait till things go out of hand? This is going to be a disaster for our business and clients may soon ask us questions. If none of you can take ownership I will shoot out an e-mail to the company about the dos and don’ts of social media.”
Asha: (sounding unsure). “Maybe, I can post something anonymously on the page or send feelers and check how the person responds.”
Vikram: “Wait Ronald and Asha – we can’t be reactive. Give me some time. Let me get my thoughts together on this and come back to the group in a day on how to handle the situation.”
Vikram thanks everyone for attending the emergency meeting and heads back to his desk.
The questions I ask are:
- Whose ownership is it to intervene and take the lead?
- Is it the internal communications team, the broader marketing communications or corporate communications group (as the case maybe in some organizations), the HR team, the leadership team, legal or someone else?
- What can the group do to get ahead of the situation?
- Who must finally communicate and how?
How can you help Vikram arrive at the best way to solve this crisis?
Interested to hear your views. Do share them on my blog.