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Riding the waves: Thriving in digital crisis communication

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As the CEO of a major player in the digital PR ecosystem, I’ve steered numerous clients through the tumultuous waters of digital crisis communication. In today’s lightning-fast world, where a single tweet can spark a wildfire of controversy, mastering crisis communication isn’t just essential—it’s survival. Join me on a voyage as we dive into the thrilling domain of digital crisis management, armed with proactive strategies, real-time monitoring, and battle-tested response tactics.

In the digital age, crises have morphed into high-stakes battles waged on the unrelenting and unforgiving terrain of social media platforms and online forums. From corporate scandals to product recalls, no organisation is immune to the perils of digital scrutiny. Yet, amidst the chaos lies opportunity—a chance for organisations to showcase their resilience, integrity, and leadership in the face of adversity.

Imagine a ship sailing into uncharted waters without a map or compass. That’s the perilous journey many organisations embark upon when they neglect proactive crisis planning. At BOAPR, we believe in charting a course long before the storm hits. Through rigorous risk assessment and scenario planning, we help clients identify potential crises before they escalate, allowing them to fortify their defences and weather the storm with confidence.

Consider the case of United Airlines in 2017, when a viral video depicting the forcible removal of a passenger sparked outrage and condemnation across social media platforms. The incident served as a wake-up call for United and the aviation industry as a whole, highlighting the importance of proactive crisis planning. In response, United implemented a series of policy changes and employee training programmes aimed at preventing future incidents—a proactive approach that ultimately helped restore customer confidence and rebuild the airline’s tarnished reputation.

In the fast-paced world of digital crisis communication, timing is everything. Just as a ship’s radar detects approaching storms, organisations must deploy advanced monitoring tools to anticipate and intercept emerging threats. With the proliferation of digital channels, from social media platforms to news outlets and online forums, monitoring has become more complex than ever. However, by leveraging cutting-edge technologies and analytics, organisations can gain invaluable insights into evolving threats and opportunities for engagement.

Take the case of Domino’s Pizza in 2009, when the company faced a crisis of epic proportions after a viral video surfaced on YouTube, revealing unsanitary food handling practices by Domino’s employees. The video quickly went viral, sparking outrage and threatening to tarnish Domino’s reputation irreparably. However, rather than succumbing to panic, Domino’s sprang into action, deploying a comprehensive monitoring system to track online conversations and sentiment in real-time. By actively listening to their audience and responding swiftly to emerging threats, Domino’s was able to regain control of the narrative and rebuild trust with its customers—a testament to the power of real-time monitoring in crisis communication.

In the midst of a crisis, the difference between sinking and sailing lies in the organisation’s response. In the digital age, where misinformation spreads like wildfire, transparency and authenticity are non-negotiable. Organisations must be prepared to communicate openly and honestly with their stakeholders, acknowledging mistakes and taking responsibility for their actions. This requires not only strategic planning but also empathy, humility, and a willingness to learn from past mistakes.

Consider the case of Johnson & Johnson in 1982, when the company faced a nightmare scenario after cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules claimed seven lives in the United States of America. Panic swept the nation, casting a shadow of doubt over one of America’s most trusted brands. Yet, in a display of true leadership, Johnson & Johnson refused to play the blame game. Instead, the company pulled Tylenol from shelves, prioritising consumer safety above all else. The move was risky, but it paid off handsomely, earning Johnson & Johnson not just forgiveness but admiration for its transparency and integrity.

The digital age has ushered in a new era of crisis communication—one defined by speed, volatility, and unprecedented opportunity. By embracing proactive strategies, harnessing the power of real-time monitoring, and delivering authentic, empathetic responses, organisations can not only survive crises but emerge stronger than ever before. So, let’s set sail together, navigating the waves of uncertainty with confidence and courage. The storm may rage, but with the right guidance, we’ll ride it out and emerge victorious on the other side.

Benedict Aguele is the CEO of BOAPR, a leading player in the Digital PR space, with an international portfolio cutting across the public and private sector.