Crisis Communications Management 2.0: Organizational Principles to Manage Crisis in an Online World.1
Gonzalez-Herrero, Alfonso, Smith, Suzanne, Organization Development Journal
The Internet has revolutionised crisis communications management. It is the channel through which traditional crises have found new ways to spread virally; it has brought new potential scenarios to plan for, and new forms of power configuration in the communication model, among other changes. This article examines how the Internet has introduced significant shifts in the way organizations must monitor, plan and respond to crisis situations, while the basic objectives and principles of crisis management remain the same. It also points out the reasons why online crisis management requires a new organizational culture and tone.
The World Wide Web was born at the end of 1990, allowing users to have information available online with a point-and-click interface1. 20 years later, the Internet has become a phenomenon with an impressive and unstoppable social impact.
Today about 26% of the World's population -or more than 1.7 billion people- have Internet access(Internet World Stats, 2009), which represents 380% more than in year 2000. Regions like North America and Europe are well above those figures, with 74% and 52% of the population having online access, respectively.
The exponential rise of the Internet is even more impressive if we consider, for example, that in 1999 only 23 'web logs' -or blogs- existed (Blood, 2000) versus the millions of today; that a social network like Facebook (set up in 2003) has in only seven years reached more than 300 million active users worldwide (Facebook, 2009); or that a video sharing platform like YouTube (created in 2005) has more than 100 million US viewers (YouTube, 2009) and serves more than one billion videos worldwide daily (Wikipedia, 2009). These numbers cannot be ignored by communications professionals.
Organizational communication and online crisis management
In our hectic world, news literally jumps -through PC screens, mobile devices, or digital TV sets- from one spot of the World to another in a matter of seconds. The Internet has become the preferred platform of information and communication for many customers, investors, analysts, employees, the media, and the many other stakeholders any company has, transforming the practice of organizational communications as a whole.
Organizational crises have found today new ways to spread. Like viruses, they now mutate, acquiring new and dangerous forms in, for example, social forums like Facebook, or video distribution sites such as Youtube. And, while communications professionals feel confident about how to prevent and treat crisis in the 'real' world, many of them are simply bewildered when faced with the implications of such crises in the 'virtual' side of business.
The impact of the Internet on organizational communication has been a topic of great attention in recent years. Kent, Taylor, and White (2003) and Settles (1996), for example, have studied the organizational responsiveness to stakeholders. Others have tried to establish leading edge use of such technologies (González-Herrero, Ruiz de Valbuena, & Ruiz San Román, 2005; Ha & Pratt, 2000; Taylor, Kent, & White, 2001), or to analyze and predict future trends in specific geographic environment or countries (Ayish, 2005; Naudè, Froneman, & Atwood, 2004).
Various authors have also covered from different angles how some Internet technologies have had an impact on current communication professional practices and how practitioners can use technology strategically (González-Herrero and Smith, 2008; Jefferson, 2006; Neil, 2000; Perry, Taylor, & Doerfel, 2003). Others have analysed how the use of digital technologies has facilitated the emergence of new tactics and tools in crisis communications, such as the use of web sites, interactive chats, real-time video, or audio files (Hearit, 1999; Madère, 2006; Taylor & Perry, 2005; Van Vark, 2004; West, 2003; Witmer, 2000). …