Real Threats. Real Plans – Crisis Communications in a 2.0 World

posted by Brendan Hodgson

Real Threats. Real Plans. This was the theme of DRIE Toronto’s first quarterly meeting for 2008 held yesterday at the Royal Bank Auditorium on Front Street in Toronto.

For those of you unfamiliar with who or what DRIE is, here’s the spiel direct from their site: The Disaster Recovery Information Exchange is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of Business Continuity Management, Disaster Recovery Planning, Crisis Management, Emergency Planning, and other related disciplines as integral components of an effective business strategy.

I’ve presented to this group twice now – late in 2007 and yesterday – both times on the impact of social media and digital technology on crisis communications. Without question, there’s a hunger for this kind of knowledge particularly given the dynamically changing communications landscape within which we, as practitioners, must now exist.

Why is this important? Because a number of fundamental changes are afoot – driven by digital technology, including:

  • The speed by which issues and threats can escalate into full-blown reputation crises
  • The surge in the level of “noise” around an event or issue - increasing the risk of misinformation and speculation to re-shape the dialogue and side-track an organization’s response
  • The extent to which social media is transforming how traditional media report on a crisis
  • The changing role of employees as brand guardians, and the need to help guide their behaviour in the online space
  • The impact of the online world’s “permanent record”, and the challenge facing organizations to rebuild their reputation in an environment where Google, according to Wired, has become less of a search engine and more a reputation management engine.
  • Most importantly, the importance of an organization’s own web footprint as a vehicle for timely, transparent, and responsible communications.

Effective crisis response in a 2.0 world requires understanding of each of these factors – and appropriate strategies to address them. Most importantly, it requires buy-in from senior leadership across all key business functions – not only communications. It requires a focus on speed and visibility, a commitment to responsible and ethical disclosure, and a recognition of the importance of being viewed as a voice of credibility and authority.

It does not diminish the importance of traditional principles that have governed crisis communications in the past – in fact, it reinforces many of them, allowing organizations to put a more human face to their communications, creating a direct channel to stakeholders, and enabling more timely and transparent dialogue.

Already, H&K is working with a number of clients to help advance their thinking and preparedness in this space. Most importantly, these are collaborations that are not simply one-way information exchanges, but two-way conversations that continue to inform our own thinking around crisis preparedness and response in a 2.0 world (in addition to what we read about Virginia Tech, the California Wildfires, JetBlue, Dell or other more commonly-discussed case studies).

Because the challenge is rarely identifying the threats. It’s ensuring that your plan of action is appropriate to the crisis, and takes into account this rapidly evolving landscape.



Ian Ketcheson

Good post.  (Long comment becuase I’m too lazy to reactivate my own blog.  I’ll just monopolize yours.)

Interesting body of work coming out of you folks on crisis comms.  

I would add, however, that we have to be cognizant of the fact that new influencers emerge and can often displace the role of governments and organizations as the "voice of authority" on an issue when they would have otherwise thought they were the key authority source either de facto, through statute, or just through the role of the state.

How you as an organization react to the new influencers will become an important determinant of the effectiveness of your crisis comms.

THe worst case scenario — you get into a crisis, and realize that you haven’t got the authority on the Web to respond.  Plan. Identify influencers early.  Become a participant in the conversations among the key influencers.  Don’t try to steal the table and claim it for youself (read: that U.S. pandemic blog that I’m too lazy to Google that lost the support of its key influencers mid-stream).  

And, aim for the key influencers to give you the link love when you hit a crisis.

Lots of upfront investments to slowly build street cred, so you can draw on that when you need it.  But, to get there, you need to enter into reciprocal relationships, which are challenging for organizations that are used to automatically being given "authority" whenever they walk in the room.




Ian Ketcheson

Wonky paragraph returns in my post.  Should be a new paragraph after "to respond"

Planning is not a worst clase scenario!



Brendan Hodgson

Hey Ian, bang on. The notion of authority and credibility in times of crisis has always been an issue, and is even more important now given precisely what you say.

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