As the world is now aware, Duke University basketball star Zion Williamson burst through his Nike shoe 33 seconds into the start of the big game Wednesday night against arch-rival North Carolina. He fell to the floor with a sprained knee and a demolished shoe, forcing him out of the game. President Obama was there, caught on video pointing and saying, “The shoe broke.”

Response Time

In any crisis, response time is of the essence. Nike has a first-rate reputation (and a robust crisis management program), so even if Nike execs weren’t actually present at the game, wherever they were in the world, it seems likely they learned about this high-profile product failure within minutes. They surely knew that they had a major crisis on their hands. Could a faster response have been more helpful?

 

Social Media HaIlstorm

Predictably, just moments after the incident, social media was in full stride attacking Nike. The shoe failure spurred Tweeters and Facebookers angrily to dredge up past complaints against Nike: child labor, sex discrimination, exploitation of college athletes. Rival shoemaker Puma prominently tweeted that Williamson should have been wearing Pumas (they’ve since taken down the tweet).

(Disclaimer: Nike is not a customer.) Nike is a top brand in multiple senses–but unfortunately, all prominent organizations need to put themselves in Nike’s shoes (no pun intended). Consider the kind of backlash that can result in a 24/7 news cycle and highly charged social media environment. It’s not a question of whether Nike deserved all the backlash–of course they didn’t–it’s a question of whether they were prepared to minimize it. This is the essence of crisis management: an organization’s being prepared for incidents, consequences, and just plain bad publicity, especially in cases in which much of the abuse may be unfounded and unwarranted, but the consequences are real all the same.

 

Impact on stock price and company value

Later that night, Nike issued its first statement about the incident, expressing concern about Williamson’s injury and vowing to investigate the cause of the failure. But Nike was, at this point, being forced to play defense against the growing mountain of negative publicity being fed by social, business, and sports media.

 

Optimizing crisis response

There simply cannot be effective crisis management these days without the ability to respond to a crisis, literally within minutes. With the Groupdolists crisis management mobile app, any crisis team can convene immediately and effortlessly, access pre-existing response procedures from their mobile phones and web, accelerating their coordinated response and ensuring that key company stakeholders are on the same page. Organizations can collaboratively approve initial holding statements to circulate, getting ahead of social media attacks and influencing any subsequent media coverage

Using the app, teams can assign tasks and manage transparently across the first few minutes of any incident unfolding, let alone the days and weeks to come, automatically documenting all activities for future reference.

Of course, it’s not just about Nike: any crisis team knows it will need close collaboration, contingency plans, and thoughtful actions to address a multitude of tough ‘what ifs’. What if competitors continue using social media and other means to pull away market share?

In the case of Nike, for the sake of discussion: what if Williamson’s injury were worse than originally thought–and what if Nike were blamed? What if Williamson made a full recovery, but publicly refused to wear Nikes?

If the past is any indicator, it seems likely Nike will deal well with the fallout over the long term. We wish them–and Williamson–the best. The question we find here is this: when a crisis like this emerges, can any organization afford to wait to begin recovering from the adverse consequences, the adverse publicity?

The best crisis management programs can reduce the initial response time to seconds, minutes at worst, streamlining the team’s collaborations and actions, reducing stress on its key stakeholders and enabling the sound thinking a team needs to manage a crisis effectively as it unfolds.

All risk and crisis management professionals aware of and intrigued by the Nike story should take stock and ask themselves, “Would we have done any better?”