For seven and a half hours on Thursday, royal watchers from around the globe were glued to their smartphones, televisions and radios awaiting news from Buckingham Palace. A virtual vigil sparked by the emergence of details of an ’emergency’ meeting called by the royal household.
While the world clicked refresh on #BuckinghamPalace, there was silence from the Palace resulting in countless memes, rumours and ‘fake news’ spreading around the globe.
The French were first to report on the potential death of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, while others pondered whether the Queen was passing the crown to Prince Charles. Others considered the news might that that Her Majesty had passed away.
While we watched the rumours swirl around the internet – was the flag at half mast or not – we also considered what stems from silence in a crisis.
It reminded us that where there is silence, internal and external stakeholders will fill that void with rumour and misinformation. Silence leading to greater uncertainty and potentially confusing the message in an already confusing time.
Thankfully, as Big Ben chimed its way towards the 10am meeting, the Palace finally revealed that there was “no cause for alarm” and no issues with the health of The Queen or her consort.
And then the news finally broke. The Duke would be stepping down from public engagements. Not exactly the earth shattering news we were expecting – certainly nothing compared to the rumours that had emerged in the silence.
We’ve recently seen the misinformation that can be spread in the wake of silence from the United crisis. And so when details of an issue with Delta emerged this week, the company was quick to respond.
While one lesson may be that we all need to not worry about what’s happening at the Palace, the other lesson for communicators is the importance of controlling the message and reducing the period of silence as much as possible.
We’re pleased to hear the Queen and her consort are both well. And congratulate the Duke on his dedicated service.
Jack & the c word crew