Crisis. Breaking news about your company. Disaster. Recall.
When important news affecting your organization breaks fast, you've got to get out in front of the story immediately. It's during a period of crisis that public relations professionals and company executives are under the spotlight-and have the opportunity to emerge sitting pretty for telling the truth quickly and in a transparent way. For most, just communicating in a way that leaves the company relatively unscathed is a win. However, when communications happens poorly, it is not unheard of for customers to lose confidence and switch to a competitor, for stock prices to plummet, or for executives and PR people to lose their jobs for incompetence.
Here are a few recent fast-breaking stories that come to mind that feature a crisis element that required effective communication: Tiger Woods' zipper problem affects sponsor companies such as Nike. Toyota vehicles have braking trouble and must be recalled. Earthquakes in Haiti and Chile devastate huge areas and leave thousands dead and millions homeless. A mine disaster in West Virginia kills several dozen workers. The Polish president is killed in a plane crash. These are just a few high-profile examples. But, of course, there are thousands of less famous ones that are equally as important for the organizations affected.
Sometimes the best way to connect with customers and the media is to quickly build a new website. The technique of building a new site to communicate in real time can be used in a variety of situations requiring your organization to deliver instant information to a large number of people.
For example, when a natural disaster strikes, organizations might want to move fast and construct a website where they'll deliver information, organize volunteers, or solicit donations. A .org domain name is an excellent option in this case because it has an inherent reputation of trust, integrity, and credibility.
A good implementation of this approach was when, in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake in Haiti, President Barack Obama asked former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton to lead an effort to raise awareness and solicit funds to support Haitian earthquake survivors. The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund was established on the web using the domain http://clintonbushhaitifund.org. The new site was up and running within hours, and before the first day had passed, hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations had flowed in.
The choice to use a .org domain was significant. A .com domain address would almost certainly have carried with it the implication that this was a for-profit venture, while .net could create a vague, indistinct first impression. With donations pouring in, within days ClintonBushHaitiFund.org had distributed more than $4 million to aid organizations.
There is a lot of misinformation about who can use a .org web address. In fact, a .org domain name is available to anyone, not just nonprofit organizations. When an element of trust is involved, perhaps a .org domain would work for your organization too.
"Buying a dot org means companies can benefit from those characteristics instantly," according to Lauren Price, senior product marketing manager at .ORG, The Public Interest Registry. "Marketers and PR professionals can use a dot-org domain name as a vehicle to neutralize crises, communicate causes, educate communities about a particular issue, and/or share its works with charities."
Of course, the key here is to get the new site up very quickly, right at the time that people are eager to locate credible information on a breaking issue. This requires that a crisis plan is in place so that it can be implemented when appropriate. Part of that plan should include when and how to establish a stand-alone site and if a .org registration makes sense.
Imagine if Toyota had created a .org site within hours of learning about sudden acceleration issues with its cars. As an official clearinghouse for information, this .org site would have been seen by Toyota customers and the media as a credible source of information, but only if the company had communicated quickly and transparently.
In my experience speaking with PR professionals, the biggest stumbling block in creating a channel to communicate in times of crisis is the lawyers who insist on vetting everything that goes out. Sadly, this frequently means a delay in communications at best or downright refusal to communicate openly and honestly at worst. So when you develop a crisis plan, make sure senior executives and lawyers are on board before a crisis breaks. Then you can get to work when required.