When it comes to crisis communication, where does a business draw the line between empathy and "business as usual"?
Skydive Australia (Skydive the Beach Group Limited) a successful and reputable young company, has found itself a key player in Friday's skydiving tragedy at Mission Beach in Queensland in which three people died.
The incident, which is now being investigated, is believed to have involved a collision between a solo skydiver and tandem skydivers.
It’s interesting to note that while Skydive Australia has been quoted in media reports, its own public communication channels remain largely silent about the tragedy.
The company’s Facebook page makes no mention of it. The Skydive Australia website contains a sole statement - difficult to find in the Investors section - which acknowledges the tragedy and sends "heartfelt condolences" to the families of those who died, then moves immediately to expressing how the company is looking forward to recommencing operations shortly at Mission Beach.
At the same time, its website home page expounds that “we’re energetic, experienced and committed to making your skydive a safe and memorable experience you'll never forget.”
At its most basic, effective crisis communication needs to include three elements:
- What happened
- Empathy for those affected
- Action steps - what happens next
I believed that at this stage it's simply too soon for the company to express eager anticipation about recommencing operations at Mission Beach. A critical incident is not business as usual. How a business responds amid such a tragedy often determines how quickly it re-establishes reputation and builds valuable resilience tools from the lessons learned.
When the operators of Dreamworld talked about plans to reopen the amusement complex after last October's tragedy which claimed four lives on the Thunder River Rapids ride, they were widely criticised and the reopening plans were quickly put on hold. So far at least, Skydive Australia has been fortunate to escape such media scrutiny.
That may be because there's a community belief that skydiving is inherently more risky than taking an amusement ride. It might be because some of the players in the Dreamworld tragedy were seen as “tall poppies” and became media targets – not helped by the fact that they got it so wrong immediately after the event.
In any case, Skydive Australia would be wise to learn from the Dreamworld tragedy. Go softly, go slowly, and remain humble. Acknowledge the facts of what happened; don't ignore them in your public communication and don't be over-eager to restore usual operations.
Dr Neryl East is a speaker and trainer on reputation credibility and communication. www.neryleast.com