In an era when the smallest happenings, the faintest experiences and opinion on matters both significant and otherwise, are expressed publicly from an alter transcending the boundaries of nations, time and language; forming a positive brand image and maintaining it is a task that summons an army of knights! Having managed to tame this ever-evolving digital media for the past decade, brand managers and communication professionals often think they can control the message, the reach and reaction of the audience. However, a crisis, in times of the digital platforms, changes not just the dynamics of communication and its reach but also amplifies the sentiment and thus the extent of the damage caused.

So while the brand building and positive engagement with the stakeholders using the social/ digital media is a task managed more routinely through meticulous pre-planning, campaigns and engagement ideas; crisis management requires a more prompt and well thought out approach. Understanding the nuances of digital media and how it has altered the entire dynamics of communication is vital when handling a crisis.

The basic rules of crisis communication – a proactive acknowledgement of the issue; well-thought-out steps to remedy the crisis and consistent dialogue with the stakeholders to reassure them about the intentions and transparency of the brand, do apply to this day as well. However, they need to be adapted to better suit a 25 seconds broadcast platform of the digital social arena. The key shift in this era is that of the monologue – communication ‘to’ the audiences through press releases and statements, has changed to a communication ‘with’ the audience approach, through open dialogues and forum discussions that are carefully moderated and well scripted. Being a highly sensitive platform, digital media brings with it a higher risk and higher benefit as well – an understanding of which can make or break the brand, with a lasting effect. Listed here are some of these basic pointers to take into account when creating a crisis plan:

The Benefits:

  • It offers a platform for proactive acknowledgement while laying an emphasis on the plan to remedy the situation. It helps reassure stakeholders and create trustworthiness about the brand by proving that the authorities and spokespersons are aware of the situation and are doing something about it, right at the start of a crisis.
  • It allows monitoring the public feeling and stakeholder reaction about the crisis. It can also be a valuable tool to predict the future course of action – if the crisis will worsen or will be contained.
  • It can be an effective litmus test to gauge the effectiveness of the current measures taken to manage /avert the crisis. It also sends out an effective message to stakeholders that the brand is transparent and honest in its efforts and intentions, no matter how bad the situation.
  • If handled efficiently, the brand can actually emerge out of a crisis with a stronger value/ trust among its stakeholders, for the way it was managed.

The Pitfalls:

  • Being an open and a highly sensitive platform, it is vulnerable to rivals, competitors as well as perpetrators who would be willing to jeopardize the efforts of resolution. The nature and tone of communication – objective with a need to know facts and an empathetic reassurance can do the trick.
  • The message sent out on this platform may again reach an unsuspecting audience, exposing them to information that they will most likely not be affected by but will get an opportunity to form an image about the brand in their minds, none the less. The effective channel of communication on digital media is thus very important.
  • The message put out on the social media channels is also vulnerable to pranksters and trolls who can manipulate and spread inaccurate information. A close monitoring and regular moderation of channels and discussions is imperative.
  • It helps to have a considerable social media presence prior to the crisis. Jumping on the social media bandwagon right during a crisis is not advisable as you do not have a lot of favourable audiences, waiting to hear from you.
  • If not managed correctly, not only will it be ineffective, but can also further deteriorate the situation and amplify the damage, leaving permanent marks.

Another significant aspect to understand and bear in mind while building your brand image on the social media platform is to create a separate strategy for crisis management and routine social media marketing – A difference very few brand managers understand. Just like building a brand in the minds of the consumer through traditional engagement means, effective social media crisis management requires an investment in time to study and understand how your brand is currently perceived by the audience and how would they possibly react, when you are in a crisis. This analysis helps draft a more realistic and effective plan to not just combat the crisis but may also help in averting one completely.