There are a lot of conflicting messages out there about the now infamous text (pictured below) sent by Malaysia Airlines to the families of passengers on flight 370 informing them their loved ones were assumed dead.
Some reports claim the text was sent before families were notified in person; some said that the text was sent after an hours-long meeting with the families. And in fact, Malaysia Airlines subsequently released this statement:
“As the Prime Minister said, respect for the families is essential at this difficult time. And it is in that spirit that we informed the majority of the families in advance of the Prime Minister’s statement in person and by telephone. SMSs were used only as an additional means of communicating with the families.”
Whether that’s true (and I sincerely hope it is), or not, the text was inappropriate. If families had been notified personally, why torture them with a matter-of-fact, emotionally deficient text message. Just because we have the technology to communicate in a variety of ways with our audiences, doesn’t mean we have to use it.
Crisis situations—particularly unprecedented ones like this—are enormously stressful, and generate a massive media response. It’s not easy to do everything perfectly. But victims and their families, in any crisis, big or small, should be treated with compassion and respect, and they should always come first. Just because a procedure, like text notification, is the usual step taken, doesn’t mean it applies in every situation.
As difficult as it can be, remember to take a step back and put yourself in the victims’ shoes before making decisions in a crisis communications situation. Doing so can mean the difference between the start of the healing process, and the beginning of a PR disaster.