Crisis Management in the Digital Age

For businesses, the opportunities that Internet provides are unprecedented in scale – enabling scale, visibility and growth like never before; on the other hand, any mistake can blow up into a full-blown crisis, shattering the company’s reputation in a matter of hours.

Whether it’s false news, nasty reviews or negative media coverage, the downside spreads like wildfire on social channels; digital crisis management needs to be on a 24/7/365 turbo, prepared in advance, in dialogue with all stakeholders – and you’ll learn from every incident that comes along.


Now, with the ability to turn mistakes into crises virtually overnight, traditional reputation and trust can be eroded and damaged with extreme quickness. But businesses can still protect reputations and build resilience in the fray – by taking traditional crisis management principles and combining them with a deep understanding of the digital domain.

Good crisis management is proactive and forward-looking. By planning in advance, by communicating and cooperating with all stakeholders, and by learning from every incident that occurs, your organisation can be flexible enough to respond to any crisis that comes its way.

Having a documented crisis management plan, and regularly running ‘table-top exercises’ with key staff to test your readiness are the best ways to see which parts of your strategy might be missing and to arm you with as much information and experience as possible to effectively navigate a crisis. To make sure your strategy is up to date and forward thinking, it’s also wise to keep abreast of key trends and futures thinking around crises.


The constant innovation of digital environments creates unprecedented opportunities for a company to strengthen itself – marketing, branding, expansion – yet they can also leave firms exposed to new risks. Word can travel fast. A company’s reputation can be forever tainted if rumour has the advantage of speed over fact. In such instances, having a rapid response via a crisis communications plan becomes ever more important.

Crisis may arise from social media scandal, data security issues and cyber attack. Businesses should have a comprehensive security system in place with timely monitoring to reduce damage and minimise response time. From rigorous security measures and online monitoring to having a dedicated team of experts and communication protocols, these organisations should adapt to the complexity of real-time crisis management in the digital sphere.

Transparency is also important in crisis communications because brands who can admit mistakes are more human and can earn the trust of their stakeholders much faster. A crisis communications team must be able to anticipate questions of inquiries with pre-approved messaging that can also be adapted across platforms and provide responses faster and more effectively. They must also be on the lookout for growing trends as a conversation evolves.


Responsiveness in the moment, in other words, can provide some calm for the public and re-establish trust with stakeholders. If an organisation’s apology is sincere, eg, if Target truly felt its data breach was its fault and for that reason they issued a heartfelt apology, or if Johnson Johnson felt strongly that its Tylenol product had been adulterated (as they were sure it had), then the apology is genuine. So, crisis response boils down to a few key statements.

As obvious as it may seem, crisis communication teams are essential and invariably need to be equipped with an action plan with escalation protocols that alert key personnel of increasing risk. The team would ideally incorporate a public relations representative, a social media management representative, legal, and, of course, executive leadership.

A post-crisis takedown is essential to establish what happened and learn from it. Integrating lessons learned into future planning will help to anticipate and address the next crisis as it unfolds. By doing the right things, organisations can stay on top in a digital crisis management scenario – not just survive, but thrive.

Post-crisis analysis

Another means by which departments could become more competent in crisis response is by learning from case studies and those of others. The other avenue is training and drills. This will ensure that digital teams are prepared for the challenges ahead.

Information spreads at a fast rate online, and public opinion can change quickly with one post or tweet, hence companies need to keep up with social media and other online channels on regular basis to spot any emerging crisis.

Good communication during a crisis helps reassure stakeholders. Owning up to mistakes and taking responsibility for them are the first steps to restoring trust and mitigating damage for brands. When Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol capsules were found to contain cyanide, the company recalled all the bottles – and within a month it was apologising and taking measures to enhance safety. Though its capsules at the time had been produced by an independent manufacturer, Johnson ­ Johnson, a company with a century-long pedigree, moved ahead of the problem and thus weathered its crisis, maintaining its brand’s standing. Target’s recent data breach, its lax response to which quickly turned into a disaster.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *