How to Respond When You Have a System Failure or Hack

Sep 30, 2021 | Uncategorized

As an information technology company that prides itself on security and client system up-time, we watched the recent Delta Airline computer outage that stranded thousands of travelers with professional interest. We were struck at how they started the blame game early in the incident. Our own public relations consultant, Helen Todd, APR, of Fluid Communications has trained us in crisis communications and her No. 1 tip – don’t lie. We asked her to write an assessment of the Delta situation and provide her crisis communications tips to our clients and followers.

Tip 1: Don’t talk about what you don’t know.

Today’s news cycle is immediate thanks to social media. So when a company like Delta has computer issues that strand thousands of customers across the country – everyone knows it immediately. And, the company had to respond immediately. In my opinion the CEO coming out and apologizing for the issues customers had was right on target. But, when he ventured into blaming it on a power outage, he went a little too far. I am only guessing that he was provided erroneous information from someone inside his organization. That is the problem in trying to give too much information too quickly. Sometimes you get it wrong and in this instance, Georgia Power (another large organization) wasn’t going to let it slide. Each story fueled another and at this point it furthers the news cycle. Click here for Georgia Power’s response.

Tip 2: Do the right thing.

In this case, Delta started doing the right thing, but as the flight delays continued over the next few days, they quit taking care of customers who were impacted. A complete rundown is on this travel blog.

True, you can’t make everyone happy. But, if Delta had continued to issue vouchers over the next couple of days, the blog linked to above would have been a little more complimentary. Some people think damage control is a very complicated thing. It’s not. Sure, the mere number of tactics and the speed with which they need to be accomplished can get complicated and that is why you need to have a plan in place. Just like you hopefully have a backup for your computers, you need a good crisis communication plan in place so you are not left developing messages in the spur of the moment. Know who is going to be your spokesperson. Know who will write the messages and who will approve them. Know how those messages will be distributed to customers, media and social media. It takes of team of people. One word of caution: that team needs to have backup, especially for people managing social media. They see a lot of snide and angry comments and need to be given breaks in order to keep cool heads.

Tip 3: Learn from your mistakes.

I’ve worked in large corporate cultures. Debriefings can be very valuable tools as long as they are done without the intent of looking to blame. They need to be done to provide constructive feedback on how processes can be more efficient. I remember in one corporate crisis team meeting we were rehearsing our disaster response. The Chief CIO started the scenario by saying its 2 a.m. and a tornado has struck our corporate HQ. He said he would then call and alert me on my cell phone. That’s pretty logical, except for I don’t sleep with my phone by my bed. Those types of things need to be discovered before the crisis!

I worked in corporate communications for a large bank during Hurricane Katrina. There were many things we were not ready for: bank vaults left sitting on the beach with no visible sign of a bank left, shrimping boats in drive thru windows, but the biggest was no phone or cell service. In the corporate office we were easily able to send out news releases to our local market media, but the messages couldn’t be received. Information, such as where our mobile ATM would be on a daily basis, had to be hand-delivered to media outlets locally. We also sent 18-wheeler truck-loads of water and supplies into the community. Everything had to be driven in and then back out at least 150 miles due to looting and safety concerns.

One final thought

In communicating in a crisis, don’t forget your employees. They can be your biggest brand ambassadors. Keep them up-to-speed on what is happening. Don’t make them have to read about the latest developments online in social media or the media in general.

Helen Todd, APR, is the owner of a Fluid Communications, a Hoover, AL based communications consulting firm. She specializes in the social media, organic SEO, writing for the web, media relations and crisis communications. She has worked in public relations for more than 25 years.

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