Ruchika Jha
Corporate Communications and PR

Assessing crisis management: Can founders’ influence turn the tide on social media?

Experts compare past and present crisis responses, focussing on clear strategy development.

The landscape of crisis communication has been reshaped by social media, demanding swift responses from brands to address their audience effectively. Numerous instances have showcased campaigns gone awry, facing social boycotts, and culminating in public apologies.

Recently, Zomato got negative feedback on social media for its 'pure veg fleet' idea. So, the founder changed plans. It will not introduce green uniforms for vegetarian delivery workers, and all veg delivery folks will stick to red uniforms.

And let us not forget Poonam Pandey’s controversial death stunt to raise awareness about cervical cancer. This stunt almost tarnished the reputation of every individual and agency involved, sparking significant backlash on social media, including from celebrities.

The afaqs! CommuniCon conference and awards 2024, powered by Kaizzen, featured communication experts discussing crisis management on social media on the topic Crisis Management In The Age Of Social Media.

The panel comprised Bibek Chattopadhyay, chief communications officer, ArcelorMittal Nippon Steel India; Aanchal Chachra, director - marketing and innovation, PR Pundit; Vineet Handa, founder and CEO, Kaizzen and Gayathri Pradeep, general manager - corporate communications, Bangalore International Airport. The session was moderated by Venkata Susmita Biswas, executive editor, afaqs!

Biswas started by comparing the duration brands or agencies took to respond to a crisis they faced and asked panellists to share whether and how that time was reduced from the past 7-8 years.

To this, Handa remarks that in the past, when a crisis occurred, there was typically a window of 12-24 hours to discuss, plan, and devise a solution. By the time the media reached out to the brand or agency, they had their strategy prepared. However, nowadays, this timeframe has dramatically decreased from 24 hours to just 24 seconds. This rapid pace of communication has significantly impacted crisis management strategies.

When faced with a crisis in the era of social media, it is important to plan carefully and consider all possible solutions. This means thinking ahead and coming up with different strategies to tackle the problem. Whether it is assessing the situation, thinking of what might happen next, or brainstorming ideas, being prepared is key to dealing with challenges effectively on platforms like social media.

“When crisis hits, you have to have a playbook to help you with preparedness and give you an idea of how to handle it. Timely response, in the age of digital and social media, is very important. It is essential to first cut down on rumours. Another important thing to note is honesty. Audiences appreciate honesty and that is what they always look for,” says Handa.

When a crisis hits or there is a social media uproar, investors and consumers pay attention to what the CEO or founder of a company says on platforms like X (formerly Twitter), or LinkedIn. If the founder is well-known and influential, their words might get picked up by the media, leading to news stories. So, when is it important for the company's face to speak up, and how soon should they do it?

Chachra referenced a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review, which indicates that approximately 78% of employees trust their CEOs if they maintain a social media presence, and about 92% of individuals seek leadership on social media before committing to joining a company. In today’s evolving digital age, it is evident that social media plays an essential role in the lives of almost everyone.

“It is important for the company to be empathetic. Whether it is a CEO who interacts the most or anybody else from the leadership team who interacts during celebratory moments to take onus because that is what your different stakeholders are expecting from you even in times of duress,” she explains.

Determining the effectiveness of the initial response in resolving a situation without further action is essential. It is the question of how frequently the first reaction adequately addresses the issue at hand, eliminating the need for additional steps. Pradeep is of the opinion that it totally depends on the crisis.

“If a crisis is something that can be explained in one media statement, it is fine. But when it escalates further and becomes a bigger issue or if false news is printed in the newspaper or on social media, we have corrected that or reached out to the media to get it corrected,” she says.

Adding to what Pradeep said, Chattopadhyay says that it is better to play a wise card. Going back to the media every day is not creating transparency; instead, it fuels the fire for local media to carry the same news every day.

“It is better to make wise choices. Your playbook might suggest contacting the media daily, but it is enough to follow your company's rule of putting out just one media statement. Stick to that and stay quiet. Sometimes, this simple approach can work like magic,” he shares.

Have news to share? Write to us