Crisis or opportunity? How to manage a crisis in the digital age


Alice Wilkinson, Property Team

Crisis or opportunity? How to manage a crisis in the digital age

At Redleaf Communication’s ‘Managing a Crisis in the Digital Age’ recent breakfast seminar, CEO Emma Kane kicked-off discussions by quoting Warren Buffet:

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it.”

Never has this been truer than in today’s digital age. Thanks to smart phones, determined bloggers and social media, a company crisis can go from spark to blaze in a matter of minutes.

Equally, with advances in technology, businesses face new challenges, from cybercrime and data breaches, to the scourge of Trump’s presidency - fake news.

But - though dangerous – a crisis is also an opportunity.

What are the risks?

The digital age has brought a whole new set of challenges for companies, including key challenges such as:

  1. Hacking and cybercrime
  2. Denial of digital assets
  3. A general crisis with social/digital knock-on
  4. Social and digital activism
  5. Fake news
  6. Online reputation clean-up

In the event of all the above, companies can mitigate a crisis through planning, clear communication, and skilful employment of digital channels, such as social media.

So, what can a business do to not only survive a crisis but channel it into long-term advantage?

Anticipate the worst

Be sure to fully assess risk and anticipate any potential problems, so that there are no big surprises later down the line.

Speaking at Redleaf’s seminar, Managing Director, Charles Ansdell, gave an example of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill - an event that BP was ill prepared to manage. In the absence of a crisis communications plan covering the scenario in depth, the problem escalated rapidly.

Assemble a crisis comms team and process

In the throes of disaster, a crisis communications team is a company’s number one asset. It is important that this crack team of spokespeople (such as the CEO), PR people, and specialist advisors know their roles inside out and the processed to follow.

Practice makes perfect, so once a crisis comms plan has been established, make sure you rehearse it regularly.

Communicate clearly – remember, the media is you ally

During a crisis, a company has the ear of a large and attentive audience.

Interaction with the media and key audiences is a must: company spokespeople must be on message, upfront, and empathetic.

Avoidance of the media is unwise: for example, during the Sony pictures hack, management issued a ban on speaking to the media, meaning the story evolved in an information vacuum, over which the company had no control.

Social media is an excellent communications tool. Use it to quickly address an issue with key audiences, ensuring that you have the first word. Use Twitter to keep stakeholders, clients and customers updated on the crisis; this is particularly useful in the event of a Denial of Services (DDoS) attack.

For example, during the 2016 DDoS attack on HSBC, the bank used social media to keep its customer base informed on the event, reassuring them that their data had not been stolen and letting them know when banking services would be back up and running. In doing so, HSBC showed itself to be customer-focused and dependable, even when facing crisis.

Monitoring your online footprint

At all times, companies should be keeping an eye on their online footprint. This means checking for inaccurate information on Wikipedia pages; monitoring online reviews, such as those posted on Google or Glassdoor; and tracking social media sentiment.

Be sure to correct inaccurate information as soon as possible: in the digital age, information – accurate or otherwise – spreads like wildfire.

Social media monitoring is integral to getting ahead of a crisis. Whether it’s a story that’s been leaked or that your company is caught in the crossfire from another’s crisis, social media users are often the first to know.


In the digital age, businesses face a range of threats, many of which can only be prepared for, though not prevented. But, though the digital age presents new challenges, it has also provided new channels – like social media – that allow businesses to take control of a crisis and, in doing so, turn disaster into opportunity.