August 8, 2023

Crisis management in public relations: the impact of technology

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Crisis management in public relations: the impact of technology

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Alison Taylor, Managing Director:
  • How technology has impacted reputational management
  • The “rules” of crisis communications
  • Practice, pre-plan and practice some more

Technology has added levels of complexity to the way in which public relations and reputation crises emerge and evolve and the speed at which news proliferates, inside and outside of an organisation.  The misdirection of thousands of potentially sensitive US military emails to Russian ally, Mali, because of a simple typo, is a current illustration of how easy it now is to land in disaster.  In this particular case, there would have been a sudden gut-wrenching realisation of the human error, followed by a sprint into trying to manage its potential ramifications. But in other cases, a low level groundswell of ‘noise’ will often premise a whistle being blown, a news story being broken or an accident happening which, left unchecked, and fueled by unregulated speculation, will gain momentum, and deliver untold reputational damage.

As technology advances, there are so many more potential sources of a business emergency and so many more ways in which it might escalate: cybersecurity and GDPR breaches, ransomware, phishing and malware attacks, identity theft, not to mention the good-old-fashioned technology failure.  Whether the result of an internal error of malfunction, or a malicious attack from external parties, all crises can be extremely serious in terms of business continuity, trust and reputation, investor, customer and supplier relations, not to mention the cost of legal and technical support to ‘mend’ and get a business up and running again. 

When managing a crisis, the speed at which news travels across digital and social channels is not the only consideration but also the fact that news no longer has a shelf-life.  It will be available for anyone and everyone to find and read about forever.  Worse still, many of the channels through which news now travels aren’t easy to find; in the era of “dark social media” valued stakeholders can wield influence in closed groups, meaning that conversations are difficult to monitor and engage with.  So, the impact of a crisis and, worse, a poorly managed crisis, will be long-term.

Something developments in technology hasn’t changed is the basic principles of good crisis communications. The ‘rules’ by which all communications about and around crisis situations should be managed are mainly common sense – know and stick to the facts, be honest and transparent, don’t speculate, do what you said you are going to do and provide timely updates and explanations if you are unable to do so. But so often in the heat of the moment, these principles can go out of the window.  

This is why it is so very important to have a strategy and plan, that considers all potential scenarios, in place well before a crisis arises, that everyone is aware of and familiar with, and that can be located easily and quickly.  

Practice and pre-planning will help you keep a crisis under control, protect your staff and keep anxiety to a minimum, while ensuring you avoid making mistakes or miscommunicating at a time when every single word and action can and will be scrutinized for its sincerity.