It’s important for corporate leaders to have rapid response protocols in place for a crisis.
By Jack Cumming
The Importance of Crisis Response
It’s important for corporate leaders to have rapid response protocols in place for a crisis. Facebook is now in a crisis, and Mark Zuckerberg is doing much that is right. To begin with, he is taking responsibility and not acting defensively. When the media are mobbing a corporate reputation, defensive actions – even when justified – can be twisted to harm the business.
It’s questionable whether Facebook has in fact done anything wrong. Apparently, they made available data which any advertising-dependent entity provides to advertisers, to allow the advertiser to focus its message. It’s been no secret that Facebook is advertising supported. It’s also no secret that Facebook is as public an arena as was the Athenian Agora in ancient times. There are persistent warnings not to post information that you don’t want to share with the world.
Public Image vs. Legal Defense
Still, there are other elements which make this a learning opportunity for other businesses. There are questions about whether the use made of data violates contracts, both contracts with individual users, and contracts with advertisers and other users of Facebook data. These are contracts of adhesion, so there are clear parallels of contract validity with senior housing contracts. Many Facebook users now are declaiming that their social media contracts may be unfair.
Some public commentators want to go further and argue that unfair contracts, especially those click-and-accept contracts common to internet applications, should be interpreted according to reasonable expectations and not according to the letter of the contract. In other words, there is a growing sentiment that, in equity, the spirit of a contract should take precedence over the legal phrasing to illuminate the meeting of the minds between the parties. That change in principle, if it takes hold, could have significant implications for senior housing.
In a crisis, fairness is trumped by outcry and the public message will follow the outcry. The potential for crisis suggests that businesses should have a response strategy ready to implement to help manage messaging when the crisis, like the recent fire at Barclay’s Friends, erupts. Third, over the long term, the culture is changing and businesses that get in front of the cultural change will be better served than those that lag, especially if lagging harms corporate reputation.
Concern for the prospect of crisis is simply wise business practice, especially for businesses that serve a vulnerable customer base. It can never be negative to suggest that it’s wise to be prepared. Facebook has been caught only quasi-prepared. That’s not good enough with the 24-hour media cycle of today and the instant popular commentary of social media. The culprit may have been Cambridge Analytica, which used the data, and not Facebook or other advertiser-funded businesses, even the U. S. Census Bureau, that were the source of data, but that doesn’t matter for reputation once the spotlight fixed on Facebook.