Engaging digitally in a crisis is a responsibility

In the face of the tragic crash at San Francisco International Airport, Asiana Airlines has chosen to be mostly quiet with little engagement via the digital channels stakeholders rely on.

In the face of the tragic crash at San Francisco International Airport, Asiana Airlines has chosen to be mostly quiet with little engagement via the digital channels stakeholders rely on.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Asiana Airlines has chosen not to engage external crisis and issues management experts. A representative reportedly stated, “It's not the proper time to manage the company's image.”

Crisis management and communications is a public responsibility. It is not all about saving the reputation of a business and brand. When something significant happens or, in this case, frightening and tragic, people need and expect to get fast, thoughtful, and useful information. No one relies on the news media anymore to deploy the army of journalists they no longer have to dig-in and expose all angles. Just as we benefit from the Instagram video of eyewitness accounts, we also benefit from the insights and authority of the businesses involved.

Brands engage agencies to help manage a crisis and to serve the public, their stakeholders from employees to customers to shareholders, and, yes, to protect the value of their brand starting by doing the right thing.

A digital lack of confidence
Most brands don't know how to use digital platforms well to engage during a crisis. Without some facility in digital and social media, it's only natural for business leaders to hesitate. Perhaps it's a default “do no harm” mentality. Today, no brand can afford not to engage when an issue or crisis erupts. The public demands it.

That doesn't mean every brand needs to instantly spin out apology videos via YouTube. We recently published a preview of our own battle-tested approach to enabling brands to responsibly do all that they can to manage the needs of their many stakeholders during a crisis or issue. While there are certainly strong fundamentals in managing any crisis, there are radical changes in the communications world and how we, as people, behave that calls for a much more involved and digitally-savvy approach.

Get Ready
Thoughtfully addressing a crisis today requires five new approaches:

  • Smart is the new fast - Rapid decision-making and quick response are requirements in today's world, as is nimble yet deliberative judgment. Speed matters but over-reacting in haste can fan the flames.
  • Perceiving is the new listening - Today's experts need finely honed emotional radar as well as keen analytics skills to convert social data into insights.
  • Story marketing is the new way to earn belief – This isn't about “spin.” We need to respect the emotional and rational sensitivities of people. Story-telling communicates faster and truer. Making content as “discoverable” as possible is the new science.
  • Social advocates are the new influencers – Regular people have increasing influence – over their neighbors, their legislators, and the media. Today's experts must be master relationship managers, knowing how to drive advocacy while carefully listening to detractors.
  • Real-time data is the new way to build relationships - Marketers can no longer rely on intermittent research to find out how their customers feel. Social and search intelligence can fuel actions that build relationships.

Responding to crisis is a public and private responsibility for brands. The only way to be ready when something terrible or urgent happens is to train on new routines that make sense in our digitally connected world.

John Bell is global MD of Social@Ogilvy and he publishes the social media business blog The Digital Influence Mapping Project. Find him on Twitter at @jbell99.

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