Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Chris Piedmont.
The College of Charleston (CofC) is known for many things including its beautiful architecture, long history, and location in America’s top city. However, the past six months, when I served as student body vice-president was filled with crisis after crisis. First there was the battle over a possible merger with the Medical University of South Carolina. Then, came the debate over whether the SC General Assembly would cut the College’s funding for selecting Fun Home, a book with LGBT themes, for the annual campus-wide reading program. Lastly, there was the outcry over the Board of Trustees selection of former SC Lt. Gov. (and confederate reenactor) Glenn McConnell as the 22nd President of the College of Charleston.
While these crises were stressful, they taught me three valuable crisis communication lessons that apply to many situations.
Respond to stakeholders’ concerns in a timely manner
When a crisis occurs, be quick with a strategic response. You don’t have to say much, but you must say something. Not commenting leads to a communication vacuum that will be filled. If you’re not sharing your brand’s views on the issue, then those hitting you will fill the void. The College’s administration did not address many of these issues with students and it left a vacuum that was filled by inaccurate information and magnified the crises.
Think before you send
All too often this important lesson is forgotten. When facing a crisis, it can be tempting to quickly fire off a full-throated defense of company practices. A powerful defense is fine, but ensure that this is the best strategic response before hitting send. One SC representative didn’t think before hitting send and he caused himself and his wife, a CofC Board of Trustees member, a lot of headaches. When I reached out on behalf of the CofC Student Government Association urging the legislature to restore our cut funding, he fired back a harsh response within ten minutes. When shared with members of the Student Senate, his response was forwarded to local media outlets that picked it up and ran with the harsh words. Waiting a few minutes before hitting send would have been a much smarter idea.
Reputation is a long game
It takes years to build a reputation but all of that built up goodwill can be change quickly by a series of crises. Respond in a timely and strategic way and your brand can weather most storms.
CofC has had some big hits the past few months, but hopefully the institution will bounce back better than ever with a few lessons learned. During the times of crises, my mantra was the College of Charleston is bigger than one issue, one book or one president. Well, so too is every other brand. With a good communication team responding appropriately, a brand can survive almost anything.
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Well said, Chris! It was a pleasure to see how you worked through these issues in real time (I enjoyed the sass, you know me!)
Hopefully the College will learn to get ahead of issues in the future; by learning to fill the content vacuum with their message, before someone else does!
I’m delighted to see you thriving at Peppercomm!
Thanks for the kind words, Sienna! Yes, here’s hoping the College and other entities learn from past mistakes.
Great post, Chris. Completely agree with you. To your point, all crises are difficult, but how you fair throughout the issue is in how you handle it.
Thanks, Laura. So true. It can be very easy to forget that in the midst of the chaos.