Three New Rules for Managing Crises in a Social World

September 26, 2013


If you wait until you know everything, you will never say anything. New Zealand dairy producer Fonterra is the latest company to be caught out by this time-tested maxim, failing ‘the need for speed’ – one of the three new rules for managing crises in a social world.

  • First, they have to recognize that if they have not updated their crisis response plan in the past 12 months, it is now useless. In fact, it is a dangerous document.
  • Second, social media has to be at the heart of their crisis communications response strategy, along with a social media listening tool working 24/7 globally in at least 190 languages.
  • Third, companies need to train and delegate authority to the first responders to a crisis, empowering both in-country and frontline staff.

The days where companies can use centralised crisis command and control are over – especially when incidents occur in another time zone.   In this new social world, detailed crisis response plans, Initial Public Statements and the tools needed for managing a crisis in the first few hours have to be shared with frontline staff and in-country personnel.

When a crisis is measured in tweets per second, these first responders need to be given the authority to react immediately and without waiting for head office. Furthermore, companies can’t be taking the time to educate head office on the cultural and social-geo issues specific to a country. This works both ways – West to East for companies like Apple, with its recent misstep in China, and East to West for Asiana Airlines.

When Qantas suffered a catastrophic failure of an engine on its A380 aircraft in November 2010, the airline was flying blind in the social media space.  Qantas did not have even a twitter account let alone a social media listening tool – the second rule in a social world. Managing Director Alan Joyce admitted this fact at a press conference in February 2011, three months after the incident.

The key to success is having a detailed plan that covers the initial hours of a crisis – the so-called ‘golden hours’ – when you can exercise some control over the crisis.  You also need a team and a strategy – a longer-term guiding light strategy.

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