The BBC web site broke the Northern Rock emergency loan story on Thursday 13th September. It was not until Sunday 16th September that Adam Applegarth posted a one page letter on the front of the Northern Rock web site explaining the situation to his customers; that Northern Rock had only requested that a lending facility be made available to them, they had not actually needed to withdraw any money and that his customers’ deposits were safe. During that 4-day span the public took all their information from the media, who used words such as ‘dramatic’ and ‘unprecedented’ which no doubt inflamed the story. Northern Rock’s customers flocked to sites such as the BBC’s Have Your Say and took their information from there and from the excited news reports over the weekend. Northern Rock only got their point across via news interviews where the interviewer controlled the agenda and from a pdf a few clicks into their site “Your questions answered” where they put some standard responses to the questions they thought their customers were asking.
Could it have been different? What if Adam Applegarth had a blog where he had been posting regularly on the difficulties of the current credit crunch and how he felt this might affect his business. What if he allowed and encouraged customers to respond to his postings and he took time to answer to the most pertinent. Then, as soon as the information had been made available to the stock market that they were requesting a lending facility from the Bank of England he could have announced it on his blog (in his own words, not drafted by PR as the letter on the front page of the site comes across) and encouraged customers to post their questions and concerns and addressing them, engaging with a direct dialogue with his customers rather than a static “Your questions answered” page? Granted, I am not saying that Applegarth should have launched a blog to deal with the crisis, but if he had one already as a means of communicating directly with his customers, they may have gone to the blog to find out what was going on, rather than the media. Instead, an information vacuum was created, which the media outlets jumped on, creating the panic which fortunately seems to be receding today.