Americans are fairly divided over a myriad of topics, and while that may have always been the case, social media and our unparalleled access to news and information seem to magnify the divisions. The same might be said for organizational crises, which can gain steam faster than a viral video.
Something I’ve noticed over almost two decades of working with various communications professionals is how the approach to crisis management has largely stayed the same. The tools change, but for the most part the overall process sticks to a well-known script: know what you’re up against, assess what can be altered or mitigated, build a smart game plan, and then act on that plan. But will that always be the case?
I’ve been intrigued by the unique challenge Papa John’s faces after the removal of its founder, John Schnatter and the resulting digital war of words. Each side is trying to reach current and former employees, customers, and the media; Schnatter via savepapajohns.com, and the company made its own attempt to show it is genuinely working to rebuild its image.
It’s a curious situation. People on both sides can argue they are right and the other side is wrong, which is not unique. But the battle is playing out in front of every single one of us — a consideration the company and its former leader need to keep top of mind.
So what’s the end game? Can Papa John’s avoid offending people who are loyal to Schnatter in some way? Will Schnatter upset the people he needs to make the company successful should he regain control? Or will customers simply take their business elsewhere because they feel like pawns or because they decide to not get involved?
Unlike customers using social media to complain about a company, presumably both Schnatter and Papa John’s have crisis management pros helping them. As the concept of social media as the great equalizer gains traction, is this a paradigm shift we need to recognize and incorporate into crisis management?
In the age of social media, perhaps personal motivators outweigh what is right and wrong, and now it’s more about creating "I was right" and "you were wrong" factions.
Division isn’t just about slicing up a pizza, as it turns out. It might be an outcome that’s desirable for some parties facing a crisis situation, and those situations expand far beyond today’s political topics we’re exposed to daily.
Tom Biro resides in Seattle and is Managing Director at Rusty George Creative in Tacoma, WA. His column focuses on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached on Twitter @tombiro or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.