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With the growth of the Internet, companies have had to do a great deal more crisis management than before. The online community gives people an opportunity to communicate with each other about problems in a very lengthy, in-depth manner as opposed to through media circuits such as the newspaper, radio and television where the lines of communication were limited.

Crises test a company's strengths and expose its weaknesses to the public. A company's reputation—with its shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers, the media, the local communities and the agencies it deals with—is on the line. The most powerful tool during a crisis for companies are symbols. It's what crises are usually characterized by. For example, the Exxon Valdez oil spill had pictures of dead, oil-slicked birds floating in the water. The Rodney King beating in Los Angeles pictures the police officers beating King with a baton as he lay helpless in the middle of the street. A picture of the Challenger space shuttle exploding in mid-air says a thousand words. How a company acts during a crisis is more important than what it says. A crisis provides an organization the opportunity to reconfirm its values and reinforce a positive public image. (2)

When a crisis strikes, people flock to the Internet for the most up to date information. The "news stations" update their information on the Web more frequently than they do on the television. When the Bill Clinton scandal broke out several years ago, Commentator Michael Kinsley said that the "Clinton sex scandal did for the Internet what the Gulf War did for CNN and John Kennedy's assassination for network television." (2) At the beginning of the Clinton crisis, MSNBC reported an increase of over 500,000 visitors to its Web site. The New York Times reported a 20 to 30 percent jump in visitors to its site. CNN's Web site had 12.8 million visits the first day Clinton denied having any type of sexual relation with Lewinsky. At times like this, public relations pracitioners go to work on "cleaning up" the Internet. Since so many people turn to the Internet, it is essential for "good PR" to boost companies' and even individuals' appearances.

Companies can handle potential media crises by making sure that their Web site presents and maintains positive and accurate view of the company; presenting their information in a timely manner; being easily accessible to the media; gathering and monitoring information through various media; and maintaining the positive organization/public relationship.

For example: Immediately following the TWA Flight 800 crash in 1996, the TWA home page was replaced with a statement confirming the crash but stating that TWA didn't have any additional information. It also said that as soon as more information was made available, they would post it. This message stayed on the site for several weeks. This is an example of very poor PR. The site was not managed and was not presented to its publics effectively. (2)

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Last updated: April 18, 2001
Webmaster: Melissa Hilliard muffe@ufl.edu