Digitizing Crisis Management

As crises spread like wildfire online, companies need to rethink their crisis practice. There is a digital answer.

According to a survey by real-time data company Dataminr, around seven in 10 corporates have experienced at least one crisis in the last five years.

A separate survey from PwC corroborates that claim and adds some new numbers. PwC's first-ever Global Crisis Survey interviewed 2,000 corporates from around the world and found that 50% had experienced between two and five crises in the last years, while 10% had experienced more than five crises.

The nature of these crises was not disclosed, but in each case, the threat was not only to operations but also to the corporate's brand. So, most retained reputation managers – either in-house corporate relations staff or outsourced public relations agencies.

Putting Out the Flame Wars

With the growth of social media and the speed at which issues can go viral, the stakes have risen considerably.

Today, the old-fashioned response of issuing a press release and getting an appropriate spokesperson into a radio interview is just not enough.

In some cases, corporates are swamped by a tsunami of comments and opinions on Facebook and also on Twitter, where to be trending negatively can deliver a big hit to a reputation.

Twitter traffic can gain momentum and build to a crescendo as more and more people weigh into a subject, creating a wave of negativity which is hard to combat.

Dataminr recently completed a study of 100 recent corporate crises and sought to understand metrics such as the time between the issue first surfacing publicly, and the corporate response.

The report looked at the intensity of Twitter traffic and how the traffic spiked, and also the duration of the incident.

British retailer Marks & Spencer, for example, experienced a public backlash crisis in late 2018 when it’s school uniform department in the U.K. began selling hijabs for female Muslim students.

Dataminr estimated the incident lasted for more than ten days, and the time between the first warning and the first news piece on the issue was 22 hours.

Digital Trip Wires

Dataminr’s point in all of its research is that early alerts can help corporates respond and better control any crisis and that today, it is not possible to rely simply on human reactions.

At a recent Dataminr event, more than 61% of senior executives said their corporate security teams struggled to identify the most relevant data points on breaking incidents.

The solution could lie in automation and the setting up of predetermined "tripwires," which can access what is relevant from a range of public sources and social media channels to provide early alerts.

These tripwires are laid around keywords and phrases and set according to geography and industry. From this, the technology identifies the signals and pushes out alerts to users in real-time.

Mainstream Aggregates Social

Today, the mainstream media is often well behind the information curve, and its first reports are often simply aggregations of information and opinions scraped from social media.

One example of this was the 2014 explosion at petroleum giant Shell’s Vondelingenweg refinery. In this case, the first real-time alerts were being pinged to corporate security teams in the affected area almost 10 hours before the first media reports in the mainstream media.

While the facility was closed for a week after the explosion and fuel prices surged across Europe, businesses that received real-time notifications had additional time to adjust their operations and put a response in place.

This is what Dataminr calls the "crisis advantage," where cleverly set tripwires are pushed out to relevant people in the organization, allowing them more time to frame an operational and media response.

As the PwC report noted, the rapid adoption of technology has created interconnected organizations, "and the consequences of a crisis are now felt by all corners in real-time."

It is therefore vital that crisis response is timely and authentic – something that can be achieved if the response to a crisis is based on facts,” the report says.

War for Accuracy

Gathering accurate facts quickly during a crisis is imperative to be able to respond to one.

Increasingly, the gathering of those facts is done automatically and distributed without human intervention.

Monitoring social media channels is only one part of this trend, and is more particular to brand management. But the growth of the IoT provides another whole world of potential warning data as part of the broader corporate response.

Tripwires informed by a hierarchy of sources and remote sensors, and then crunched by data analysis to deliver real-time alerts is the trend for risk management and a key enabler for corporate resilience.

The Dataminr study of the 100 crises showed that 54% of corporates chose not to respond to the incidents which impacted them.

The report does not reveal more. Still, perhaps the lack of response was not by considered choice, but because the corporate was frozen into inaction because their “crisis advantage” window was too short to frame an adequate response.