Does a good story help you in crises? The story of Uber might have some answers

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Uber and storytelling

Uber has struggled through multiple controversies; the company has been many times in the spotlight and faced crises. Communication at Uber is not a fire drill, though; it is not just a tool for managing reputation. Communication is what their business is based on, it is their foundation stone.  Uber biggest asset is their storytelling skills and how they persuade people to change their lives. To get into a car with a stranger and not to use those yellow cabs in New York which are so part of the New Yorkers’ identity. Uber is about change, it generates difficult situations but always the big picture what matters, and when having such a mission well-told (science also approves), most crises are temporally.

Uber and its crises

The company was born in 2009 in San Francisco and by 2015 it has spread to most major cities in the world. A couple of examples that happened to Uber on this path:  a manager and his team were caught ordering a significant number of rides from their competitor and then cancelling it (2013), it was discovered that Uber could spy on their consumers by reporting their location information (2014), their drivers assaulted their customers, which questioned the company’s background check policy (for example in 2014). This year, so far they had the crisis of #deleteuber; a lawsuit from Alphabet Inc, which accuses Uber of stealing designs for technology; a video that showed the CEO, Kalanick berating a Uber driver who had complained about cuts to rates paid to drivers; former Uber employee published a blog post describing a workplace where sexual harassment was common, and finally a conflict with local legislators regarding the permit to test self-driving cars on the streets of California.

How is this handled well?

Many worry – including this blogpost – that Uber has a difficult time to keep their reputation and unable to manage their communication in the time of these crises, and the importance of appropriate crisis management is emphasised in research, as well.

Here is when focusing on the big picture comes in. Uber gives stories to humans on humans. It persuades people on things that were unimaginable before.  Kalanick is an”extroverted storyteller, capable of positioning their companies in the context of dramatic progress for humanity and recruiting not only armies of engineers but drivers, hosts, lobbyists, and lawmakers to their cause.” says Brad Stone, journalist. Uber keeps emphasizing the human stories about their drives and communities and they do a lot to keep good relations with the ‘relevant’ politicians, which is also proven by papers that good Public Affairs is crucial. In 2014, before that legislation that would have cap the growth of Uber in NY, the company used digital storytelling on its app to incite its costumers to speak up against the bill; used (television) ads that focused on the human interest stories of their drivers and gave birth to grassroots activation.

Several events show how Uber already moved on and even profited from their crises with their communication that simply out weights these issues.  I believe the way they use storytelling to communicate their mission and use stories with human interest that will help them to make these crises quieter and then just pass away.



About the author: Timea studies Communications at the University of Amsterdam. She has been biking a lot since moving to the Netherlands and enjoys public speaking.

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