Crisis Communication 2.0: Mary Barra Strong In Adversity

Jun 10 2014, 12:06pm CDT | by

By Shannon M. Wilkinson

With 13 deaths tied to General Motors’ ignition switch malfunctions, a wave of recent recalls and a $35 million fine all tarring the company’s reputation, GM’s CEO Mary Barra is in a hot seat that keeps igniting. It has been suggested that she has stepped onto a “glass cliff,” been given more of chance because of her gender and may be at risk of losing her job. Such portrayals don’t give her the credit her performance merits.  So her inclusion on Forbes new list of the world’s most powerful women is a step in the right direction.

Barra has not been able to stop GM’s crisis. But her 2.0 crisis communications skills are an asset to GM. They can be judged by the transparency and skill with which she handled the recall crisis on the Internet. From the start, she deftly confronted the issue while downplaying the significance of her gender. Barra’s communications strategy incorporates multiple digital media platforms. She has used these channels to respond to the crisis with a strong and genuine message. In addition to harnessing social media like Facebook and Twitter to connect directly with customers, she has also addressed the recalls in a series of videos, a USA TODAY editorial, and even her commencement speech at the University of Michigan earlier this month.

Sage advice

“Problems don’t go away when you ignore them — they get bigger,” Barra advised Michigan’s graduates. While that might sound like a well-worn aphorism, she understands that it’s taken on new meaning and weight in the digital era—especially when it comes to CEOs and other high-profile people. On the Huffington Post, business strategy consultant Alice Korngold points to Barra as an example of how social media is becoming an increasingly vital tool for CEOs, while ethics and leadership expert Terry Newell says her approach demonstrates how “corporate leaders are increasingly ‘public officials’”:

In the world of social media, the World Wide Web, and a 24/7 news cycle, private sector leaders can neither isolate their companies nor control the expectations that govern how they need to behave. They cannot isolate their images from the glaring light of public scrutiny.

Writing on Forbes.com, Davia Temin views the crisis as Barra’s “chance to write the playbook for how to handle a huge corporate crisis in the 21st century, when news, information, and misinformation travel at the speed of electrons.” She is also “using this crisis to transform the old GM culture,” according to Harvard Business School Professor Bill George. “By being open and transparent about GM’s problems, Barra has aligned herself with her customers and ameliorated public outrage,” he adds.

As Barra strives to quell outrage and better understand and engage with the public and GM’s customers, she has established herself at the forefront of several important trends in the marketplace. A December 2013 Pew Research Center report found that women are more active than men on social media, especially Facebook. They are also becoming a larger and more influential segment of the auto market, according to Boston.com’s Sue Mead. It’s not surprising, then, that Fortune ranked her #1 on its list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business (Forbes ranks her #7).  It will be fascinating to watch as she takes GM in a new direction. Her astute 2.0 playbook is an effective strategy other CEOs can learn from.

Shannon M. Wilkinson is founder and CEO of Reputation Communications, an online reputation management firm for clients in business, finance and philanthropy. She tweets @reputationnews.

 
 

Don't miss ...

 

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/30" rel="author">Forbes</a>
Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.

 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest stories

Your Parent Or Kid Moved In: Are You Covered?
A record 57 million Americans now live in multigenerational family households — double the number in 1980, according to a new Pew Research Center study. And I bet many of them have the wrong homeowner’s or renters...
 
 
Pandora Looks to Challenge Terrestrial Radio's Dominance in Cars
Pandora Media is one of the largest Internet radio providers in the U.S. with more than 75 million active users. While the company’s active user count has increased at a robust pace historically, it is likely to slow...
 
 
Are General Manager Salaries About To Skyrocket? Will There Be A Front Office Salary Cap?
Are General Manager Salaries About To Skyrocket? Will There Be A Front Office Salary Cap?
It’s January 2026. New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner gets out of his driverless car and triumphantly marches before the gathered press to introduce his prized new free agent. It’s a record-breaking contract—over...
 
 
Volkswagen AG New Coverage: Trefis Price Estimate at $51
Volkswagen AG is the second largest automaker in the world behind Toyota and slightly ahead of GM, selling 9.72 million vehicles globally in 2013. Established in 1937, Volkswagen AG, along with its 340 subsidiary...
 
 
 

Latest from the Network

Doutzen Kroes welcomes second child
Doutzen Kroes has given birth to her second child. The Victoria's Secret model and her DJ husband, Sunnery James, welcomed daughter Myllena Mae into the world in her native the Netherlands this morning (07.30.14). The...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Ian Ziering says being away from his kids is 'torture'
Ian Ziering finds it ''torture'' being away from his children. The 'Sharknado 2' star - who plays Fin Shepherd in the upcoming TV movie - admits he hates leaving his two daughters, Mia, three, and Penna, 14 months, whom...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
India struggling at 112/4 in second innings
Southampton, July 30 (IANS) India were left struggling at 112 for four in the second innings, while chasing a target of 445, at stumps on the fourth day of the third cricket Test against England at The Rose Bowl here...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
17 Palestinians killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza market
Gaza, July 30 (IANS) At least 17 Palestinians were killed in Israeli strikes at an overcrowded market in Gaza Wednesday after Hamas rejected an Israeli four-hour truce offer, a media report said. As many as 160 people...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Five killed in Nigeria suicide attack
Abuja, July 30 (IANS) Five people were killed when a woman suicide bomber blew herself up in a college in Nigeria Wednesday, a media report said. The suicide attack took place in a technical college in northwestern...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
India women's hockey team out of medal contention
Glasgow, July 30 (IANS) The Indian women's hockey team lost their last crucial Pool A tie 2-3 to South Africa at the Glasgow National Hockey Centre here Wednesday to go out of medal contention at the Commonwealth Games...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Gold eludes Indian wrestlers, get 4 silvers, 1 bronze (Roundup)
Glasgow, July 31 (IANS) After a day of highs, there was disappointment in store for Indian wrestlers as they only garnered four silver medals and a bronze in the 2014 Commonwealth Games at the SECC Hall here Wednesday...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Scoreboard: India vs England, day 4, third Test
Southampton, July 31 (IANS) The following is the scoreboard at stumps on day four of the third cricket Test between India and England at The Rose Bowl here Wednesday: England first innings 569/7 declared India (first...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Pinki, Sarita, Devendro reach CWG boxing semis
Glasgow, July 31 (IANS) Indian boxers Pinki Jangra, L. Sarita Devi and Devendro Singh made the semi-finals of the Commonwealth Games in their respective categories at the SECC Hall here Wednesday. However, Amritpreet...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Indian doubles squash players earn group wins
Glasgow, July 31 (IANS) India's doubles squash players earned wins in their respective categories at the Commonwealth Games here Wednesday. Men's doubles pair Saurav Ghosal and Harinder Pal Sandhu won 11-7, 11-3 over...
Read more on Sport Balla