I spoke at an IABC event last night on crisis communications and social media, and it prompted an interesting question (particularly given that many of the audience hailed from government organizations): How do you reconcile the importance of timely communications with the need to communicate in both official languages?
The question was posed by a communications advisor at a prominent federal agency. But it’s also a topic that has arisen several times in discussions with clients around the development of their crisis dark sites.
It’s an important question, as strict adherence to “official language” regulations could impact an organization’s ability to respond quickly to an issue.
Ultimately, my position – based on discussions to-date – is that stakeholders will forgive uni-lingual communication if the effort is focused on pushing out vital information in as timely and transparent a fashion as possible. What they will not forgive is knowing that you intentionally withheld critical information for the sake of political expedience.
Granted, this deviation from “regulation” would tend to apply more to situations such as accidents or disasters whether man-made or natural, and where risk to health and safety requires rapid communication. Whereas, with a crises of confidence where a few hours spent ensuring communication in both official languages is coordinated, timing might be less of an issue. Likewise, this holds true in situations where you’re communicating more than a few lines or paragraphs that could easily be translated within minutes.
But when you look to how Northern Illinois University was, for example, rapidly updating their site as events of the shooting unfolded (see attached image), would anyone have complained if (and were this a Canadian institution obliged to abide by Official Language laws), they had only communicated in one language?
Naive, perhaps? You tell me.