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Fuelling the panic: The power of media in crisis situations

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Posted: 27/09/2021 Written by: Chloe Shelcott and Matt Stott

As thousands of drivers spent their weekend on the garage forecourt, raging about the queues while feeling righteous in their pursuit of a full tank, we’re sure some were wondering… how has it come to this? And why so suddenly?

 

In the blink of an eye, the country has descended into a mass panic over fuel shortages and a self-fulfilling prophecy has ensued.

 

Crisis situations shine a spotlight on the immense power and influence that the media has on the public. The media’s primary role is to deliver factual information of public interest, which is instant in today’s 24/7 media landscape.

 

But the media are also businesses that need to attract readers, generate sales and increase web clicks. As a result, some outlets can often be seen walking the thin line of impartial facts versus commercial interests.

 

Bold headlines, exaggerated statistics and nuances (up to and almost) make a real impact on readers and their behaviour. Especially in these heightened times.

 

The finger of blame has already been pointed at some media sources for pedalling fear and misinformation, as criticised by Brian Maddison, Chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association on BBC Radio 5 Live today.

 

What about social media? Don’t forget, the great toilet roll shortage of 2020 was also stirred by the likes of Facebook, Twitter and TikTok.

 

In recent days, feeds have been alight with gossip about the best places to fill up, garages that have run dry, and live videos of drivers sitting in mile-long queues.

 

Some may be hesitant to trust the media in these times of ‘fake news’ and ‘clickbait’. But when people see their own friends and family rushing to the pumps, what ensues is the ever-volatile ‘fear of missing out’.

 

The fuel shortage is a stark reminder of the responsibility of media and social media outlets in crisis situations, and the same applies to PR.

 

Responsible and ethical PR practice in crisis situations is vital to protect a brand’s integrity. Don’t underestimate the power of social media and when (and when not) to use it, and be prepared for every eventuality as a crisis can quickly evolve.

 

Keep your messaging clear and consistent and, most importantly, stick to the facts – or your brand’s reputation will be running on fumes.

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