Sony’s approach to crisis communication fails to reassure PS3 owners
Sony is not the first company to suffer from hacking, nor is it the first to lose the email addresses (and possibly credit card details) of its customers. So why are publications like the Financial Times suggesting that its reputation could be seriously damaged? The answer lies not so much in the security breach of the Playstation 3 Network, but with Sony’s approach to crisis communication once it became aware of the problem.
As a guest on BBC Radio Five Live’s Victoria Derbyshire programme today (27 April), I was joined by a number of Sony customers, all of whom were concerned about the security breach. They talked of a lack of trust in Sony, not because of the breach itself, but because of the way they perceived the company had responded to it – with six days of silence. This is a lesson for all businesses dealing with a crisis: it’s not the crisis itself that damages your reputation; it’s the way that you are seen to be addressing it.
It also shows that a lack of communication is often interpreted as revealing a company that is in disarray, doesn’t care or is keeping secrets. None of these perceptions are helpful when you are in crisis management mode and seeking to protect your reputation.
Sony’s statement contains many elements required of a textbook crisis communication response: an apology; details of the action being taken to address the problem; empathy for the impact on customers; and the involvement of independent experts to help address the problem. So in this case, the crisis communication challenges are not really about the content of Sony’s statement, but its timing.
It’s interesting to note that like Toyota which was also criticised for a slow communication response in the light of last year’s product recall, Sony is a Japanese business. The Japanese business culture may work against a swift and open approach to crisis communication (the same observation was made in the aftermath of the recent earthquake). Equally, technological companies often wrestle with the idea of early communication: their tendency is to seek every last piece of information about a problem (and ideally resolve it) before saying anything. The difficulty with this approach is that it may result in an impeccable technical solution, but a severely damaged reputation. It is this fate that Sony is currently fiighting to avoid.
- Jonathan Hemus, Insignia Communications
- Follow Jonathan on Twitter @jhemusinsignia
Tagged Under: Corporate reputation management crisis communications Crisis management crisis preparedness Hacking Issues management PS3 Reputation management Risk communication Sony Sony crisis communication Toyota
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