Discounting the obvious when it comes to high visibility emergency events usually backfires. Case in point, watch this news report involving a representative from Imperial Oil Refinery in Sarina, Canada, and then read on.
When asked by a reporter if he would confirm that the video and pictures posted looked like their plant, the communications representative refused, saying; ” I can’t. It’s something someone posted on social media, and made a claim, that I can’t verify. He went on to provide only superficial information about what happened at the plant.
The visibility of the event, and the company’s seemingly evasive response to initial public concerns only stirred things up more in the social media realm with local residents.
In all fairness, this poor guy was probably given his marching orders from the company legal beagles, whose single mission is to protect the company’s bottom line and legal standing. But, as is so often the case, this can come at the expense of credibility and community confidence.
Obviously, this refinery suffered a significant unanticipated operational issue-process interruption, where highly pressurized gasses and fluids are shunted to emergency relief systems where they are burned off so the systems are not over pressurized, and cause catastrophic and potentially deadly consequences. However, these contingency procedures, while constantly practiced and reviewed by refinery operators can be loud and highly visible by those outside the gates, and who are used to the hum and sounds of routine operations. It’s during these events the public rightly expects to be warned, informed and heard.
Could the refinery representative have done or said anything differently when confronted with the video and pictures of “alleged” flaring event? Perhaps. But, without any back channel information about how the video was distributed and discussed, I’m not going to judge his interview performance. He just looked like he was caught flat footed. However, it provides an opportunity for large companies to learn and be reminded of the need to;
* Develop and maintain a strong relationship with the local media. Follow them on social media, and routinely provide interesting company information with them.
* Engage and follow key community social media accounts; local businesses, governments, regulatory agencies, government officials, etc…
* Have a REALISTIC company crisis communications plan, and practice it regularly. Include local media outlets in the drills. This provides them the opportunity to learn more about what goes on inside the fence, but also may give you a unique perspective of what is important to them and why. It’s also nice to see a familiar face on the other side of the microphone when it gets shoved into your face during a bad day.
* Pay attention to what is being said. Local twitter, Facebook, and Snap chat can provide real time intelligence about what people are seeing and talking about during the event.
* Even though pictures taken and shared on social media may not be able to immediately verified, it is important to monitor and analyze what is being shared, and if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…
* Video editing after an interview can make the interviewee look really good or really bad. Knowing the interviewer ahead of time and having a caring, consistent message can help reduce the chances of pulling out and focusing on an awful single statement.
A company’s reputation and credibility depends on a foundation of transparency, concern and community stewardship. Let’s hope Imperial Oil’s credibility remains intact.