In a Crisis, Snap a Selfie

What better way to clear up confusion or go on the offensive in a crisis than to snap a selfie and post it on Instagram.

Jill Abrahamson, after her firing as executive editor of the New York Times, captured herself with boxing gloves and a punching bag.

Beyonce and her sister Solange documented themselves on Instagram skipping together following release of elevator video showing Solange in a punch-out with Jay-Z.

Does this mean Instagram is the new magic wand of crisis management? Hardly. But it is interesting.

Rule one in crisis response is to get out your story as quickly as possible — and to keep talking as long as the crisis lasts. Letting the story line get ahead of your story can be disastrous.

Ask former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki who was engulfed with a deepening scandal over delayed medical care for veterans and manipulation of wait time reports by local VA officials to cover up the truth and tune up their stats to receive incentive pay.

Or ask Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber who initially passed the buck on the Cover Oregon website fiasco that failed to register a single patient online after spending more than $200 million. Kitzhaber is playing catch-up on the issue in a re-election year and has given his GOP opponent Dennis Richardson a political punch line. He calls the 3-term governor “all hat and no cattle.”

It is hard to imagine how images of Shinseki taking a veteran’s blood pressure or Kitzhaber puzzling over computer code would stem their respective crises. The cure for their crises will take more than a snappy selfie.

The selfie of a combative Abrahamson with boxing gloves sends a message that there is life after the New York Times, but it doesn’t answer the question of why the first female executive editor of the prestigious national newspaper fell from grace. It fell to her successor, the first African-American executive editor of the New York Times, to offer an explanation in words, not pictures.

Seeing Beyonce and Solange cavort happily arm-in-arm doesn’t erase the vista of an ugly elevator scene — or explain what caused it. Maybe we don’t care or need to know, but then again maybe we don’t care or need to know that Beyonce and Solange are one happy family again either.

The expression “fight fire with fire” is often meaningful, relevant counsel in crisis situations. But taking a picture to combat an image may not be a big enough backfire to stop a conflagration.

Photo-sharing can play a role in a sophisticated crisis response. It can reassure employees and community members that, for example, an environmental incident has been subdued. Images can be shared immediately and on the spot, without time-consuming editing and bureaucratic approvals. Selfies can project an underlying and enduring message that words simply can’t.

But in a crisis a picture doesn’t always replace a 1,000 words. Snapshots can’t take the place of careful explanations. A good picture can just as easily be viewed as good spin. Great photography can convey layers of meaning and visceral emotions, but most selfies aren’t great photography.

There are a lot of ways to tell your story. Selfies are a new, interesting and fresh tool to aid storytelling. They just aren’t the last word.

[This post was first posted on Gary Conkling Life Notes.]