The World Conference on Disaster Management (@WCDM) started today in Toronto, with a heavy emphasis on social media. I attended the afternoon workshop sessions Boyd Neil (@BoydNeil) and Jane Shapiro of Hill & Knowlton on Best Practices in Crisis Communications.
The session started by stating that lawyers and accountants will almost always interfere with best practices in a crisis by wanting to wait before speaking to the public. They typically want to collect all of the information to assess liability and costs to the company before deciding on a course of action.
I've said before that the new Apology Act in Ontario may change things, but it hasn't been around long enough to know for sure. The reality is that with new media, public citizens will often "report" on events via social media before first responders or reporters even arrive. This can influence perceptions of a crisis enormously, and it is the perception of an event that will usually give rise to litigation after the fact.
If you don't at least try to give your message, others will give it for you.
In addition to social media monitoring, the panel suggested that companies create "dark site," pre-formatted style sheets and web pages prepared in advance to a disaster that can be quickly formatted and filled in for a specific incident.
A dark site is a pre-developed, non-public Web site that can be published to the live Web in the event of a crisis….
Typically, a dark site contains pre-approved messaging and documents such news releases, pictures, official statements and other background information, as the specific details will only be added right before their release.
A dark site can be placed on a separate domain, be a distinct section of the main organizational Web site or totally replace the original. It could be saved on any of the corporate servers or be kept securely on a preferred external device.
A dark site would also allow social media widgets like Twitter feeds for real-time updates. This pre-crisis planning stage might be a more appropriate place for attorneys to be involved, in providing input about the type of information that should be included.
But if lawyers really want to be involved during a crisis, there may be other areas they can assist with. I asked the panel about moderating comments on a company Q&A dark site during a disaster. Neil said that it should be done, but with full disclosure, ensuring that all privacy legislation about suspects, victims, customers, etc. is adhered to.
Lawyers shouldn't be left out simply because litigation concerns from disclosure are less of a concern – because everyone wants a piece of the action when a crisis hits.