When protest becomes a crisis

An organization can find itself in crisis mode quickly when any sizable group is alienated by the actions or even the intent of the organization. This group can morph into a protest group and then go public at electric speed because of the power of social media.

large-demo-copyThe traditional way for organizations to deal with such public protest groups gone public is to oppose the protesters in every way they can. Some more enlightened companies do their best to listen to the protests and to deal face-to-face with protesters but this attitude is rare. Unfortunately.

There are quite a few examples when warfare between the two sides has gone very badly – most of the time for the organization. The reason why organizations are often on the losing side is that the public generally allies with groups that look like them and that have values like them, such as community and family life, individual safety and convenience. Organizations look more at large-scale reform and the bottom line.

It may be a Canadian thing but, in the end, when an intent or action incites a negative reaction, the best resolution is an agreement between the pros and the cons. In a typical situation, the steps that might be taken by the organization include:

  1. Forming an internal crisis team
  2. Calling on crisis experts as required
  3. Assessing the key concerns of the protesters
  4. Matching the organization’s intention or action against the concerns
  5. Address mistaken concerns and responses to accurate concerns
  6. Design communications vehicles such as: news releases, interviews, videos, community presentations, endorsements from local influencers, white papers, case studies, etc.
  7. Meet with protest leaders initially to discuss concerns
  8. Hold community meeting(s) to correct mistaken concerns and explain corporate actions
  9. Distribute communications to community and, then, media
  10. Track coverage and protester activities
  11. Continue to address existing and new concerns and results of organization’s responses
  12. Publicize the eventual resolution of the crisis.

The devil, of course, is in the details and those details must respond to the protests rather than conduct skirmishes and battles between the organization and protesters, media and the public at large. Protesters, in the end, are seldom the devil; nor is the organization. The job is to allay concerns on both sides without lasting bitterness. It is possible but it isn’t always easy.