Crisis Management in a Digital World

9 min read by Charles Craik 12 Jun 2018


As the number of platforms available for consumers to air their grievances increases, managing a crisis before it goes viral and out of control is becoming more difficult for those protecting and promoting brands online.

Just last year, many major companies faced detrimental and costly PR crises, proving that it sometimes only takes a video, comment or tweet to diminish an entire brand’s reputation.

As such, business leaders need to be ready to address and manage a crisis swiftly, efficiently and in a manner that shows that consumers’ concerns are addressed comprehensively and positively.

Importance of Pre-Planning & Risk Assessment

However, what is the best way to approach this? One key reason many brands find themselves in the middle of a communication crisis is due to the lack of pre-planning and risk assessment ahead of time.

Crisis management is just as much about handling a crisis on the spot as it is about preparing for a crisis to happen beforehand. So, what are some questions that should be asked ahead of time when performing a risk assessment?

“What are the major risks that impact businesses and what could your business be associated with?”

DigiMind has a great infographic that outlines the major risks that could impact businesses, which include subsets of the following areas:

  • Reputation-associated risks: These components impact how your brand is perceived by your target audiences. Mitigating risks in this area requires proper branding, CSR efforts and strong employee behaviour and communication policies as well as ongoing training around these.
  • Business risks: These influence your strategy, business model and overall how your business operates. You can alleviate risk in this area by thoroughly researching companies you are interested in partnering with prior to negotiations and by operating as an ethical business.
  • Legal, regulatory, standards, compliance and financial risks: These link together to determine your legal and financial restrictions/obstacles. You can reduce risk in this area by being financially savvy and using a trusted auditor and accountant.
  • Socio-political risks: These influence your audience research and work collectively to aid in your brand transformation over time. By listening to your audience and staying true to your company values, you can relieve risk in this area.
  • Natural, health and environmental risks: These inform how you make sustainable business decisions. You can mitigate risk in this area by having an in-depth understanding of the vice versa relationship between your company and the environment.
  • Geo-strategic, crime and mafia risks: These impact your policies and actions around data security and can heavily influence brand perception. By employing two-factor authentication and training staff on internet safety, you can reduce your risk in this area.

Although it may sometimes be at the back of a business owner’s mind, all of these factors could in some way impact your business, regardless of industry, and this is something that all stakeholders need to be wary of. If you are not unsure of where to start, it may be extremely beneficial to look at how other companies have addressed these risks or dealt with something similar and then contemplate what you can learn from them.

Additionally, businesses should always take into account groups that might go against them when performing a SWOT and audience analysis. Whether you want to listen to them or not or have the same values that they do, they are capable of destroying your brand’s image. So, you should carefully contemplate how will you strategically manage this sensitive relationship.

As a precaution and in relation to the above, businesses should always be mindful of current issues and stay up to date with the latest news and most importantly, observe how their target audience is reacting as well. As times are changing, people are becoming more vocal about the issues they care about, such as sustainability, and these opinions will impact your business model because they will force you to make changes or risk losing customers.

“Are there potential systemic or supply chain issues that could arise, which could impact customer perception of your brand?”

These type of crises are rooted in issues with quality control around product development and customer interactions. Do you have a quality standard and careful methodology in place for your products and services? Also, how often are you monitoring your supply chain and are you aware of potential pain points? More importantly, have you taken time to look at the feedback your customers are providing and adjusting?

In a blog written by my colleague Dan, there is an example he discusses regarding how analysis of customer reviews helped a company identify and resolve an issue with packaging and smell of products. Sometimes, it is just about monitoring, listening and taking action.

However, it is also about taking time to think through all possible scenarios and having some kind of plan in place. For instance, as a marketing agency, we have to anticipate where a data breach could occur and take steps to minimise risk in these areas.

If you can anticipate potential issues, you can conduct a risk analysis and take preventative measures.

Risk Management & Prevention

Being able to anticipate potential risks and putting preventive measures in place is an important step that every business should take to avoid a communication crisis. For the purposes of this blog being centred around the digital world, I have provided some examples of preventive measures you can implement as related to potential social media crises.

As you can see from the example spreadsheet, the three key ways you can ensure prevention include:

  1. Creating clear guidelines and action plans that cover possible scenarios
  2. Training employees on these and keeping this training up-to-date
  3. Having a clear platform/person for monitoring possible issues

However, while you may have all the preventive measures in place – there is no guarantee of 100% accuracy and perfection because human error is inevitable. So you should always be prepared for the worst, just in case.

Risk Communication & Response

That being said, in the case that a crisis occurs, you can use these few steps to help you work through your response so you can stabilise and recover.

  1. Assess & Acknowledge: Your first step should always be recognising the problem in a timely fashion, even if you have not anticipated the situation and are unable to provide solutions right away. This is where you can provide initial steps you are taking to address the problem as it sits such as password changes, training or further investigation.
  2. Apologise & Link to Your Values: Public opinion of a business can be damaged quickly when a company does not apologise and gets defensive. Regardless of the situation, making an apology that addresses your part in the situation and accepting responsibility goes a long way. Forbes offers some really good tips for crafting your apology so that it resonates with your customers. You should also try to link back to your company values and how the situation veers from what you are trying to accomplish and be as transparent as possible.
  3. Establish a Crisis Overview: Once you have addressed the problem, issued an initial apology and have investigated it, you should provide the public or people impacted with a more in-depth explanation to avoid any ambiguity or unanswered questions. You can either do this in an electronic press kit sent to news sources, a screenshot shared on social media or through a page on your website. This should cover:
  • What happened?
  • Why did it happen?
  • Where did it happen?
  • Who was involved?
  • Who was alerted and how?
  • How will the current situation be dealt with?
  • What steps will you be taking to prevent future issues?
  • What is the contact information for someone with further questions?

If you are unsure where to start or what to do, these steps will always help guide you in the right direction.

Further Thoughts

Crisis communication and management in a digital world is complex, which is why you need carefully planned communication strategies and tactics in place and a well-developed brand image. Therefore, it is always best to have an expert or trusted marketing partner manage your brand and marketing activities, especially on social media. They should carry out a thorough SWOT analysis to understand what you should and shouldn’t do/say and can provide you with an unbiased and honest opinion. If you would like any advice or have any questions, please feel free to get in touch.

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