What chat channel should you use in a crisis?

By Chris Phillips GCGI FSyI FCIISCM

In my experience one of the best ways to learn about crisis management, is by looking at mistakes that have been made; even better if those mistakes have been made by someone else. After examining a number of crises and how businesses managed to overcome them it has become apparent that those using WhatsApp encountered some real difficulties that made managing the incident harder than it should have been, more complicated and probably opened the business to legal issues.

Using a platform which staff may use for general chat is fraught with dangers. Even the most basic problem of who monitors the contact list on the system is inevitably overlooked. So, I thought I would expand on some of the issues related to using these apps for crisis communications.

It’s not just what you say during a crisis that counts: The channels you use to convey your messages are equally important. For me when it comes to key messages, you need to use the three Cs and be Clear, Concise and Consistent. But what channels should you use to reach your intended audiences during an emergency?

In all this, the (relatively) new kids on the block are chat channels popularised by the likes of WhatsApp, Microsoft Teams and Slack. We now rely on the speed of instant messaging both in private life and when we’re at work. These are all excellent products, but none were designed specifically for use in a crisis.

Many end up using WhatsApp in an emergency for the very simple reason it’s what they use on a day-to-day basis, everybody knows how it works and groups are already in place.

The problem is, WhatsApp doesn’t allow crisis managers to view conversations and groups unless they are invited to do so and when it comes to that all-important post-incident review where conversations and document sharing needs to be analysed, WhatsApp sides with the users and not the crisis managers.

In a crisis, I need to have visibility of what is being said, what documents are being shared and what decision and actions are being taken. Plus, I don’t want users deleting content because they fear it might reflect badly on them in any future enquiry. I also don’t want staff to have the ability to add participants to a chat group from outside the host organisation without corporate oversight. You really don’t want entirely inappropriate individuals climbing on board and viewing your crisis response.

The whole thing about a crisis is they can be terminal for the business if not handled well. Surely it is sensible to use a platform that is specifically designed for handling a crisis communications? There are several on the market and some are better than others and of course all come with different price tags. Some have a very basic option and additional bolt-ons, sometimes these bolt-ons are only available in certain countries.

Personally, I’m very impressed with YUDU and the chat channels contained in their Sentinel crisis communication package.

Finally of course each business should make its own mind up and may feel that they want to carry on using their current channels in a crisis, but you really should understand the added risks you are dealing with and importantly don’t deploy a channel simply because ‘it’s what we use’. Do some research to discover what chat channel is right for you. Your business and your reputation could depend on it.

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