Sir Richard Branson demonstrates exemplary crisis communication skills following Virgin Galactic tragedy

November 4, 2014 by Sophie Hunt

When Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crashed last week, tragically causing the death of one pilot and seriously injuring another, it highlighted not only the importance of crisis management planning, but also the benefit of having a strong, empathetic leader at the helm when disaster strikes.

Not content with merely issuing statements, Sir Richard Branson – a larger than life character renowned for wearing his heart on his sleeve – was on a plane heading to the crash site within hours of hearing the news. He also used his own blog and Twitter feed to share personal thoughts on the tragedy as well as latest news updates.

Without question, this authentic approach to crisis communications has succeeded in reinforcing his position as an empathetic, credible spokesperson. It has also set the tone for future communication from the wider Virgin family and influenced the way his business is judged in the wake of Friday’s horrific accident.

So what can other organisations learn from Sir Richard’s response to this tragedy? Here are my top three pieces of advice:

Number one – be authentic and show empathy

From the outset, Sir Richard Branson demonstrated genuine care and concern for those affected. He also communicated in a way that reflected both his personal values and his corporate values – something which has undoubtedly won him support and helped maintain stakeholder confidence.

Number two – communicate quickly and frequently

Whilst there is still a role for traditional media statements, in the immediate aftermath of a crisis, social media tends to be the best tool for ensuring your voice is heard quickly.

In Virgin Galactic’s case, Facebook and Twitter were immediately used to share updates and disseminate information fast to a global audience. These online channels also provided an outlet for people to express their grief and show their support for Sir Richard Branson’s future work in the field of space travel.

As a further demonstration of crisis communications best practice, Virgin Galactic’s website was revised to feature statements on the tragedy and links to additional information – reinforcing the importance of undertaking crisis management training ahead of an incident occurring so teams are prepared and capable of responding appropriately.

Number three – put people first and only communicate information you are 100% sure of

Since the tragedy, Sir Richard Branson has balanced respect and empathy for those affected with a desire to continue his space programme.

He and his team have also stuck to the golden rule of effective crisis communications – only release information you are 100% certain is accurate. In this way, they have avoided being drawn into speculation and have instead, reiterated a commitment to working closely with the appropriate authorities to investigate the cause of the crash.

In times of crisis, people need to stand together. Sir Richard Branson’s heartfelt response to this awful incident has demonstrated that in the face of adversity you can be strong, whilst still showing compassion. Let’s hope it’s an example others will learn from.

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