Has social media changed strategic-level crisis response? Part One

By Sarah Nicholas

Part 1 – No

Social media may have changed the nature of crises, and the speed required for a successful crisis response – but has the advent of Twitter and co. really changed the key tenets of crisis management and core roles and requirements of a top-level, strategic crisis response ‘gold’ team.

I don’t think it has. Controversial, perhaps, but let me explain:

The gold team – the executive level of a crisis response – is responsible for strategic thinking, horizon-scanning and top-level decision-making. While it is vital for any business to monitor social media both during business as usual and in the event of a crisis, this should be the responsibility of the operational ‘bronze’ team, who then must feed vital information to the top. It is important that the gold team is kept informed of general sentiment and interest, but they must not be distracted by the clamour of social media and get drawn into the detail.

Similarly, external communications are of utmost importance during a crisis response, and social media platforms offer another channel to reach out to stakeholders and the general public. However, the strategic decision-making required for social media should not be different or separate from other communications decisions. The key questions remain:

  1. What is the message?
  2. When are we saying it?
  3. Who are we saying it to?
  4. How often are we saying it?

This final question is one that was always important, but the rise of social media has given it new significance; there may have been subtle shifts in emphasis, the key decisions for the gold team remain unchanged.

Every crisis faced by an organisation is different in nature, scale and complexity, and yet the key principles of a successful crisis management are constant. In much the same way, the growth of social media has undoubtedly changed the crisis landscape: providing additional sources of information, more channels for communication and the potential for dialogue with stakeholders at a far faster rate than ever before. The expectation of a swift response, galvanised by social media, has had the biggest impact on top-level crisis response teams – heightening the pressure and shortening time-scales for decision-making in an already pressurised environment.

So while social media has impacted several areas of crisis management, the key principles of a crisis response are built to withstand the unpredictable, volatile and diverse nature of crises. While the answers and actions may change, the questions at the core of a strategic crisis response should remain the same.

Stay tuned for James’ response, where he argues that social media has changed the face of strategic-level crisis response.

About Dominic Cockram

Founder and MD of Steelhenge. Pioneer of simulation exercises with over 20 years experience in business continuity and crisis management. Dominic is an experienced speaker determined to make the world a more resilient place.

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