The Role of Social Media in Crisis Situations

Social media has changed absolutely everything and absolutely nothing in crisis communications.

I’m on my way to the International Air Transport Association’s Crisis Communications Conference in Hong Kong today and much of the discussion leading up to the event has focused on the impact of social media in crisis situations, and for good reason. Social media has been a transformative catalyst in both responding to and managing crises, creating both considerable challenges and very real opportunities for communicators across all industry sectors.

On the one hand, the proliferation of social platforms has enabled those involved in crises – consumers, eye-witnesses and public/investigating authorities – to share video content and accompanying commentary instantly… shortening response times to a matter of minutes. At the same time, mobile and social channels provide communicators with an unprecedented opportunity to track breaking public sentiment, engage in audience dialogue when appropriate and share information and situation updates more widely, speedily and authentically than ever before.

So, while everything has changed in terms of the challenges and opportunities associated with the instantaneous, global sharing of developments and opinions, nothing has changed when it comes to the “evergreen” core principles of crisis communications (click to tweet):

  • Prepare rigorously for the highest priority reputational risks
  • Systematically track and analyze stakeholder perceptions as a means of prioritizing tasks and resources
  • Deliver consistent messaging
  • Ensure the organization’s words are fully aligned with its actions, matching human empathy with decisive action
  • Actively factor in the importance of culture and language into the strategy
  • Act with honesty and integrity, and speak with one voice – based on facts not speculation

Social media – alongside owned digital assets – represent an unavoidable and indispensable set of delivery channels and listening tools central to the strategic management of any modern crisis. However, that function will only be effective if those tools are deployed as part of a broader omni-channel crisis communications strategy that considers all relevant stakeholder groups.

Dr. Simeon Mellalieu (麥善銘), Partner, Client Development APAC, is a communications specialist with almost 20 years of experience in PR consultancy in Europe and Asia. His expertise lies in corporate positioning and reputation management, brand building, consumer marketing and engagement and issues and crisis management.
Listed in the PRWeek Global Power Book 2016 and 2017, Simeon is Honorary Secretary of PR Hong Kong and served as Chairman from 2010-2013. He also sat on the Advisory Committee for the School of Communications at Hong Kong Baptist University from 2014-2016.
His business-to-business, business-to-consumer and crisis communications experience spans industry sectors as diverse as aerospace, automotive, food and beverage, finance and investment, gaming, healthcare, payment, petrochemical, retail, travel and technology. He has consulted for such clients as Bacardi, Boeing, Disney Channel, FedEx, Ford, Levi Strauss & Co., Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Malaysia Airlines, Motorola, Nissan, Philips Semiconductors, Rolls-Royce, Shell and Visa.

Simeon is a steward of client relationships across all of Ketchum’s offices in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region, rallying and coordinating specialist support across the region, upholding client care, best practices, and the introduction of new services. He provides senior counsel for local, regional and global clients at the highest boardroom level.
His work has gained recognition through multiple industry awards. In 2007, he received the David Drobis Award, Ketchum’s highest accolade rewarding excellence in client service.

Simeon is also a regular speaker, panelist and chair at industry events in the Asia Pacific region covering subject matter as diverse as social/digital communications trends, data and creativity, issues and crisis management, corporate affairs and agency management. Recent appearances include PR360 Asia 2017 (panelist), the Asia Pacific Corporate Affairs Forum 2015 and 2016 (panel chair) and Crisis and Reputation Management 2016 and 2017 (conference chair).
He is also a regular judge of industry awards including Public Affairs Asia Gold Standard Awards (2011 – 2017) and PRWeek Asia (2013).
Based in Hong Kong for 15 years he started his PR career in the UK before transferring to Asia. He joined Ketchum in 2004.
Simeon is British and was educated at University College London.