On Monday, 17 July 2023, two scandals rocked Singapore’s normally staid and boring political environment. One was the resignations of two Members of Parliament over their “inappropriate relationship” as deemed by their party, while the other was a low-resolution video of two senior members of an opposition party over an intimate dinner.
In platforms such as social media and online forums and communities, people were playing online sleuths, digging up old interviews or personal details, and sharing their views and theories. The local media also went on an overdrive to get their scoops, such as staking at the MPs’ homes and interviewing the neighbours and a former driver of one of the MPs. Even a seemingly innocent response from one of the neighbours, “No, I seldom see (the MP) and his wife go out together”, made its way into a news article.
Imagine if your business was hit by such a scandal.
Suddenly, your employees, business partners, customers, and anyone purportedly a stakeholder would be asked for their comments, views, or any details at all.
The issue is this: What appears online, stays online. The digital footprint, whether positive or negative, lives on forever in the online world. These have the potential to impact your business reputation. As such, it is imperative to always be prepared for a crisis, effectively navigate the situation, and influence the narrative.
This article explores the significance of crisis communication in today’s evolving and interconnected world, where the physical and digital realms converge. We will also examine the types of crises that can befall businesses, discuss the process of crisis communication planning, the benefits of a well-planned Crisis Comm Plan, and the consequences of not having one.
More importantly, we will provide you with a free 10-step Business Communication Guide to help you create your own crisis communication plan.
Why is crisis communications crucial in today’s converged worlds?
In today’s rapidly evolving and interconnected world, businesses of all sizes face a multitude of risks and challenges. A crisis can strike at any time, jeopardising a company’s reputation, operations, and relationships with stakeholders. And because the boundaries between the physical and digital worlds have blurred significantly, social media, instant news dissemination, and interconnected supply chains have increased the speed and impact of crises.
On 28 December 2014, AirAsia Flight 8501 was on its scheduled flight from Surabaya in Indonesia to Singapore when it crashed into the Java Sea. Tragically, all 162 people on board the aircraft perished. As rescue teams searched for survivors and families waited anxiously for answers, AirAsia’s CEO took to Twitter in the early days to provide updates and offer words of encouragement to staff and the search and rescue teams. Behind the scenes, he apparently gave his phone number to the passengers’ families so as to give them a listening ear. In addition to the CEO’s tweets, the AirAsia team also focused on sharing information in a timely manner with its stakeholders.
By being ready and responsive with timely information, AirAsia was able to proactively manage the crisis, ensure transparency, and protect the company’s reputation amidst the convergence of information and communication channels.
What are the types of crises that can befall businesses?
Businesses face a wide range of crises, both in the physical and digital realms. These include:
- Security Breaches: Cyberattacks and data breaches can expose sensitive information, leading to customer mistrust and legal repercussions.
- Allegations of Fraud or Theft: Accusations of financial misconduct can damage a company’s credibility and investor confidence.
- Perceived Racial Biases or Discriminations: Incidents involving perceived racial biases can lead to public outrage, employee discontent, and reputational damage.
- Product Recalls: Defective products can pose safety risks and result in financial losses and litigation.
- Natural Disasters: Physical disasters, such as hurricanes or earthquakes, can disrupt operations and require effective communication with stakeholders.
On 21 May 2023, a post on Xiaohongshu (a China social media platform with more than 300 million users) accused the cabin crew of Cathay Pacific flight CX987 of belittling passengers’ English language ability. The online response was fast and furious, with the post garnering more than 10,000 likes and 1,000 comments over the next couple of days. Cathay Pacific sprung into action with apologies on Weibo over the next two days. The airline suspended and then fired the flight attendants. In a mere 48 hours, Cathay Pacific’s reputation built up over the years as a leading airline took a massive hit. That could have been worse if the airline had not responded quickly.
How to start crisis communication planning?
While countless crisis scenarios are possible, businesses can reduce risks by conducting a comprehensive risk assessment. Identify potential crises based on historical data, industry-specific challenges, and emerging trends. Prioritise scenarios with the highest likelihood and severity, focusing on those that could significantly impact your company’s reputation, financials, and stakeholders. Collaborate with key stakeholders, including PR experts, legal counsel, and executives, to develop a crisis communications plan that aligns with your organisation’s values and goals.
What are the benefits of a clear and simple crisis comm plan?
Having a crisis communications plan offers numerous benefits, including:
- Speedy and Coordinated Response: A well-prepared plan allows for a rapid and coordinated response, reducing the risk of misinformation and confusion.
- Enhanced Stakeholder Trust: Transparent and empathetic communication builds trust among stakeholders, strengthening their confidence in the company’s ability to manage crises.
- Preserved Reputation: Effective crisis communication helps protect a company’s reputation during challenging times, minimising reputational damage.
- Regulatory Compliance: A clear plan ensures compliance with legal and regulatory requirements, mitigating potential legal risks.
- Competitive Advantage: Companies with robust crisis communication strategies gain a competitive edge by demonstrating their commitment to responsible corporate governance.
What are the consequences of not having a crisis comm plan?
Failing to have a crisis communication plan can have severe consequences:
- Reputational Damage: Without a plan, a company may struggle to respond effectively, leading to negative public perception and long-term reputational damage.
- Loss of Stakeholder Confidence: Stakeholders may lose confidence in the company’s leadership and ability to navigate crises, affecting relationships with customers, employees, and investors.
- Chaotic Response: An uncoordinated response may exacerbate the crisis, leading to misinformation, rumours, and increased public scrutiny.
- Legal Liabilities: Lacking a crisis communications plan may expose the company to potential legal liabilities due to mishandling sensitive issues.
In Taiwan, a recent spat between a group of undergraduates and a local restaurant erupted online, culminating in putting a temporary close to the restaurant’s operations and reputational damage to the university.
On 8 July 2023, undergraduates from the National Taipei University of Technology’s Department of Information and Finance Management went for dinner at a local restaurant. They ate two servings of rice even before the rest of the food had been served and were unhappy that no more rice was made available to them during their dinner. These students then went online to leave one-star reviews for the restaurant.
Internet users, incensed by these reviews, flooded the Department’s social media page with scathing comments. The Department apologised on the students’ behalf and brought them to personally apologise to the restaurant’s owner.
Unfortunately, the saga continued to escalate with the undergraduates’ unhappiness at being made to apologise, other restaurants chiming into the fray, the public’s differing interpretations of “free” or “unlimited” servings of food, and the Department’s sudden closure of their social media page.
The saga did not end well for the eatery. It announced plans to suspend operations from 16 July 2023; the last day of service was 15 July 2023. As for the National Taipei University of Technology, also known as Taipei Tech, one of the world’s top 500 universities, it racked up more than 6,900 angry emojis on its Facebook page of 11,000 followers while its post on 11 July 2023 regarding the dispute between its students and the restaurant sparked 23,000 comments.
FREE: 10 Steps To Building A Crisis Communication Plan
In today's converged worlds, effective crisis communications planning is critical for businesses to thrive amidst uncertainties and challenges. Through this article, we want to encourage business leaders to take proactive steps to build their crisis communication plan in advance. Proactive preparation and transparent communication can protect a company's reputation, foster stakeholder trust, and minimise the impact of crises.
To aid businesses in developing their own crisis communication plan, our PR experts, Joh-Ju Koh of Vermilion Pinstripes and our partner, Edward Lim of CIZA Concept, have prepared a comprehensive 10-step Business Communication Guide.
In this Guide, you will find 10 essential steps, distilled from our years of working through various difficult and crisis situations with our clients, to help you develop your own crisis communication plan.
We invite business leaders to download this free guide today.
Alternatively, if you have specific requirements and prefer to engage our expertise during unexpected and challenging situations, we can help you develop strategies, craft effective messages, and ensure a proactive and thoughtful response.
Chat with our experts today for a 30-min discussion.