It is clear that 2017 is going to be a vintage year for crises.
The roll call of brands that have faced challenges and rafts of bad publicity include GM, Lockheed Martin, Nordstrom, United Airlines, Delta, Spirit, Adidas, Pepsi, Target, Wells Fargo, Samsung, Uber, HBO, Chipotle and Price Waterhouse Cooper, to name but a few.
Get used to it.
There are fundamental ways that issues arise and then have the flames of controversy fanned by social media that means this year is not an anomaly—it’s the shape of things to come.
We are entering the golden age of crisis.
Factor #1: Social media leads, the traditional media follows
It’s not news that social media are where people raise issues and make their feelings clear, often with the support of large groups of like-minded people. It’s not news that bystanders to any incident are going to whip out their cell phones and have a video on the web within minutes.
What is new about this environment? That crisis plans still don’t appear to anticipate all of this! Watching United Airlines flailing around in those first 48 hours after Dr. Dao was filmed from every angle being dragged off that flight to Louisville, was to watch an organization that apparently could not imagine how this might play out when recounted by other passengers.
A simple 140-character tweet from the U.S. president, or even the threat of such a tweet, has sent clients scurrying in search of external PR counsel.
Social media are all grown up. They have power. They often set the news agenda for the mainstream, more traditional media.
But the preparedness inside major organizations—the level of issues and crisis planning and investment in resources that organizations have undertaken to get themselves ready to face threats in the age of social media—is most definitely not all grown up.
Too many organizations have a crisis plan that was built long before social media reached its current level of power.
Factor #2: Technology is enabling the threat, but not defenses
An observation that we at RockDove Solutions have made in the past and, I suspect, we will be repeating for some time to come, is that there is little sign yet that organizations are taking the appropriate steps to match the technology-enabled threats with deployment of readily available technology to defend themselves.
It’s technology that enables the heightened level of threat that has brought us to the golden age of crisis.
Passengers on an airplane record and upload the tawdry details of a confrontation between the flight crew and a family with a baby in a minute—giving national television instant content.
It’s technology that allows those who would wish to disrupt your business the ability to do so by gathering in virtual communities and galvanizing direct action among thousands of like-minded people.
Think NGOs, dissatisfied customers, alienated communities and angry former employees.
Yet there is technology that would enable organizations to respond more effectively and quickly to threats and social media firestorms.
Factor #3: Millennials have a different relationship with brands
Millennials are more engaged with brands and have different expectations. So, millennials can be a very bad enemy when a brand misbehaves.
In April, the researchers at The Harris Poll revealed the growing impact of the largest generation since the boomers.
This poll one looked at how millennials are increasingly dictating the health of the top brands in the U.S.
A key conclusion was that millennials are driven by a strong sense of values and look for that in the brands they support.
And millennials are not a single homogeneous set of values. Some are liberal-leaning, loving brands such as Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. Others are more conservative, enthusiasts for brands such as Chick-fil-A.
But they do take sides. They will advocate for what they feel is right and actively oppose what they feel is wrong.
All of these factors behind the advent of the golden age of crisis speak to a need for every organization to take a fresh look at its crisis planning.
Join RockDove for their third webinar with IABC in their series, “The Changing Face of Crisis in the Digital Age,” on 14 September.