The tsunami that slammed into Indian Ocean rim countries in late 2004 taught companies around the world a lesson about crisis management.
Now, nine years later, businesses must learn to brace for another devastating wave – a “perfect tsunami” – this time in the virtual-communication sphere, which will potentially hit their yields, an expert on crisis communication suggests.
“Consumers have become more active in social media by generating their [own] ideas, opinions and experiences about brands. Once a crisis in a brand occurs, rumours and error messages will be spread quickly and [become] uncontrollable. This is ‘a perfect tsunami’ in the virtual sphere,” Brian West, senior vice president and senior partner for Asia-Pacific reputation management and global crisis management at FleishmanHillard, told The Nation.
West said that by 2020, some 90 per cent of the people in the virtual community would consume infographics and videos. Meanwhile, in the past 12 months, video consumption via YouTube in Thailand saw a 125-per-cent increase.
Crises in social conversation could affect the reputation, cost, yields and benefits of a brand, he said.
He added that London-based international law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer had found that 28 per cent of crises go global within the hour.
The firm said that on average it takes corporations 21 hours to issue meaningful responses, and 50 per cent of communications professionals believe organisations are not adequately prepared.
Another issue that will have an impact a business is a false massage in social media, such as a fake tweet, West said.
He pointed to a fake tweet on the Association Press Twitter feed as an example. The news service was hacked and a tweet issued saying, “Two explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured.” At that time, the Down Jones Industrial Average dropped 143 points, but recovered within minutes after AP quickly confirmed that that the tweet was not genuine.
Australian Airline Qantas faced a similar case in November 2010, when flight QF32 from London to Sydney was forced to make an emergency landing because of an engine problem after taking off from Singapore’s Changi Airport.
The incident caused a series of problems resulting from the carrier’s decision to ground its Airbus A380 superjumbo jets, and its share price collapsed. West said that although Qantas had pursued all means of crisis management via all mainstream media to regain the confidence of the public and stakeholders, the stock price still crashed.
However, the airline noticed that there had been a Twitter report that the Qantas A380 had crashed and one of its engines had exploded over Indonesia. After discovering the false rumour, Qantas changed its communication strategy to be more active on social media and explained quickly that the tweet was factually incorrect.
To brace for the “perfect tsunami”, the FleishmanHillard executive suggested
that companies should invest in a newsroom to detect, monitor and listen to conversations among customers in the social-media network 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Monitoring offline conversations both in English and in other languages is also needed, he said. Businesses should also utilise “big data” in preparation for responding to a crisis as quickly as possible, and to minimise unnecessary damage to the brand and the company.
“Using social media to communicate and engage directly with end-consumers is not enough.
“We should learn how to create a dialogue and community with key influencers and social-opinion leaders, in order to deliver the right and accurate message to the public once a crisis occurs,” West said.
He added that in the world of digital communication, those influencers and opinion leaders could help the brand create a ripple effect should a crisis occur.