Paradigm Shifts in Crisis Management

News no longer breaks – it tweets. But are companies ready to communicate at the speed of their audience? While most organisations have crisis management plans, they are still less prepared than ever: only 49 percent have a crisis communications playbook for specific scenarios and less than a third conduct crisis simulations.

Simply having a crisis plan is no longer enough – particularly if that plan has not been updated or tested in more than 12 months. Woefully outdated, textbook-style crisis manuals are usually catered to a past age where newspapers and traditional media were the sole gatekeepers of information. Today, traditional media is only one part of a larger picture dominated by the pervasiveness of social media and subsequent changes in how society communicates.

In late June, FleishmanHillard Singapore held a seminar exploring this context further. Over 45 senior communications and risk professionals from high-profile organisations attended to hear Brian West, FleishmanHillard’s Global Managing Director of Crisis & Issues Management, share his insights on the various paradigm shifts in crisis management. They also heard from Manoj Nair, Senior Research Analyst in our Social & Innovation Team, on the opportunities social media offers for companies before, during and after a crisis.

Brian West, FleishmanHillard’s Global Managing Director of Crisis & Issues Management, speaking on the day

The session saw attendees come away with three key learnings.

Ignore the speed of social media at your own peril

There are 4.61 billion mobile phone users globally. This equates to 4.61 billion citizen reporters capable of recording, writing and uploading any statement, video, fact, fiction or accusation to social media instantaneously. In fact, social media moves so quickly that it is common for companies to only find out about their own crises from external social platforms.

Companies need to understand how this speed – and lack of true checks and balances – makes it more difficult to cut through the noise and mount an effective, thought-out response strategy. They have to gain control of their narrative online before others do so.

Social media users are quick to judge a company’s initial response. A poor initial response can even exacerbate a minor crisis and turn it into a global incident. Failure to respond appropriately can create surges of negative social media reactions and often makes it impossible to turn poor perception around.

 Don’t Waste the Vast Potential of Social Media: Don’t Miss out on It

It’s not all bad though. The growing influence of social media creates abundant opportunities for companies, too.

Beyond using it to understand customer conversations, companies can measure the real-time impact and effectiveness of their initial response and then tweak their strategy and tone as necessary. They can also respond through rich, engaging forms of media – particularly video.

Even better, companies with a digital and social command center can directly engage consumers and keep the information coming. Digital and social command centers – and company-owned newsrooms – are transforming crisis communications.

Authenticity speaks to the heart

However, speed, format and platform mean nothing if what you say fails to strike a chord. While tailoring crisis strategies to present media landscape is necessary, authentic leadership and a strong guiding light strategy are essential components in the Crisis Management Hierarchy of Needs.

A guiding light strategy is a crucial moral compass in a crisis, and helps bring a company’s core values to life. It puts all decisions into perspective, and ensures an organisation moves from putting out fires and thinking short term, to truly managing a crisis and ensuring every response fits with where it hopes to be tomorrow, next year, in five years, and onwards.

Authentic leadership can mitigate public hostility and buy benefit of the doubt, as illustrated by AirAsia’s Tony Fernandes in 2014, when he immediately flew to the scene of a devastating accident and communicated personally and directly – that is, no corporate speak. In particularly trying, emotional times, the public wants to hear someone communicate from the heart.

Companies need to remember people are usually involved, and that not every stakeholder has an agenda.

For more information on FleishmanHillard’s crisis management expertise, please contact us here or visit