Blackberry FailBlackberry’s system failure earlier this week was further exaggerated by the company’s virtual communications (her hum) black out. The timeline of events has been much documented but what should Blackberry have done differently?

In an organisation of any size, a crisis is just that – an unplanned emergency and in those now infamous words of Donald Rumsfeld, there are some ‘unknown unkowns’ for which it is pretty difficult to prepare.

Doing nothing or in Blackberry’s case, being seen to do nothing, is just not an option.  We don’t doubt for one moment that Blackberry execs and engineers weren’t running round doing their best to sort out the problem, but their customers needed to know that.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing but had Browser Media been involved, we would have taken the following steps:

War Cabinet

A company needs to know exactly who would be on their war cabinet, should a crisis arise. This elite team needs to be exactly the right size and will differ for each organisation: too small and the group won’t involve enough of the key departments and too large, no decisions will be made. Don’t forget ops, internal comms, PR, social media, customer services, investors, vendors and other third parties if relevant.

Many organisations forget to involve their agencies at this stage but inviting senior bods from PR, social media and SEO agencies can really help.  They’ve probably got more experience at dealing with a crisis than the company themselves.

Don’t forget your ad agency/media buyers too. Why? You may need to pull inappropriate advertising or at least use the space for more suitable messaging.

Holiding Statement

Issue a holding statement as soon as you can…this shows that you are willing to communicate with your stakeholders and will placate interested parties for a short while.

Don’t leave it too long for future updates though, otherwise their patience will be tested. You could just push your message out to external parties but you have a website so use your homepage to your advantage as well.

Make your website the hub of all comms – it’s one of the few places you’ll be able to control your message. Blackberry didn’t appear to think it was worth posting updates to its homepage or its help blog.

Social Media

Similarly, make use of any social channels you’ve got – or at the very least, use Facebook or Twitter to direct people towards your main channel of communication.

Blackberry UK were averaging somewhere between 15-30 tweets a day before the crisis and that was reduced to 7 tweets over 3 days this week. With nearly 26,000 followers, wasn’t that missing a trick, just a little?

Be Yourself

Where possible, communicate as the brand people know. Many customers hadn’t even heard of Research in Motion until Blackberry’s crisis hit and that just confused the matter.

Yes, the parent company clearly need to be involved, but why not talk to customers as Blackberry?

Avoid Jargon

Your stakeholders are already somewhere on the scale of mildly annoyed to seriously livid, so why add fuel to the fire and use complicated terminology?

‘EMEA’, ‘core switch failure in RIM’s infrastructure’ – what does that mean? Speak in language that everyone understands.

Spokesperson

Field a spokesperson – a real person who can bring a human touch to the situation. Showing compassion is vital. You need to apologise and demonstrate that you understand your customers’ plight.

The spokesperson won’t be able to talk to everyone who wants an interview but a few strategic one-to-ones, will get your message out to the masses.

Consider filming a short statement from the CEO or MD for YouTube – particularly in this case as Blackberry had its own YouTube channel.

Put A Journalist Cap On

Think about the issue from a journalist or blogger point of view: if you were reporting the story, who would you go to for comment – especially if the company in question isn’t saying much?  You shouldn’t try to coerce or influence this group but you may want to make sure they receive your updates.
Blackberry’s crisis is far from over and when the dust does settle, it is going to have a lot of ground to make up. Reports suggest that Blackberry’s PR team had their hands tied over recent days and for that I have much sympathy.

But it does highlight the fact that if a major communications brand can get their crisis management wrong, so could anyone else.

You know you’ve got to worry when people aren’t just writing about the crisis, they are writing about how you handled the crisis and cracking jokes at your expense.

Heard the one about “What did one Blackberry user say to the other? Nothing!” I rest my case.