The changing face of crisis management

September 11, 2019 by Sophie Hunt


Introducing myself at the start of a crisis management training course recently, I realised I’d hit a significant career milestone - 25 years advising organisations on issues handling, reputation management and crisis communication.

The realisation caused me to reflect on the changes I’ve noticed over the years. For example, when I started out, crisis management plans tended to focus primarily on operational issues such as fires, floods and IT failures. Now, it’s reputational issues which keep CEOs awake at night, crises which strike at the heart of an organisation’s culture or values – just think of Oxfam, VW and Boeing.

The advent of a 24-hour news cycle has also had a significant impact on the way crises are reported and managed. However, by far the biggest change has been the emergence of social media. Whilst the same crisis management principles apply, the transparency, speed and spread of a crisis has changed beyond all recognition.

According to research carried out by the law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, in today’s digitally enabled world more than a quarter of crises spread to international media within an hour and over two thirds within 24 hours. A sobering thought and one that becomes even more impactful when you consider that on average, it takes 21 hours for companies to respond – leaving them open to trial by Twitter.

So, what can organisations do to protect themselves from a social media crisis in this new age?

1. Predict and plan
Conduct a reputational risk assessment to identify priority social media risks. Once identified, consider how these risks might play out and develop action plans to remove, reduce or manage them.

2. Prevent own goals
Establish a clear social media policy for your staff and make sure they’re properly briefed on it. Remind them of the pitfalls of inappropriate social media usage and ensure that anything posted on behalf of your business is accurate and in line with your corporate values.

3. Build capability
Run a social media simulation so your crisis communications team can rehearse their crisis handling skills in a safe environment. Consider involving your legal team so they can provide context. It will also help speed up response times in a real incident as relationships will have been established and strategies pre-agreed.

In today’s fast changing world, social media will remain an ever-present force so it’s essential organisations adapt and evolve so they’re ready and able to respond to the challenges it presents.

For more advice on how to manage social media effectively in a crisis, click here to sign up for our next webinar ‘Managing Social Media in a Crisis’.

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