In the information age, crises unfold in new ways. This winter, we saw the Syrian city of Aleppo become the centre of the country’s civil war. Enabled by today’s modern communication platforms, Aleppo was put on centre stage for the entire world to see as it underwent destruction. We watched as seven-year-old Bana al-Abed documented her life being torn apart by the war, using Twitter fame to draw worldwide attention to the violence.
As the crisis peaked, the number of news pieces, opinions and tributes grew online. Information spread like wildfire, uncontrolled and too quickly to really comprehend. Try as we all did to keep up, it was increasingly the case that the only people who knew all of the facts were experts in the field and those who were lucky enough to log on to Twitter at the exact right time, before newsfeeds became saturated.
There was a lot of criticism around the fact that the battle of Aleppo was broadcast globally and that not many in the western world came to its aid. Media voices and activists seemed to critique society as a whole for abandoning Aleppo; if no one was acting or reacting to what they saw, beyond retweeting death tolls, then what, really, was the significance of the fact that the world was watching?
In modern times, the reality is that everybody is watching everybody. While we do indeed live in an era of post-truth and ‘alternative facts’, we also live in an era of post-privacy. Aside from Twitter often being the first with breaking news, the increased regulation around transparency, including mandatory filing and reporting and the prevalence of whistleblowing, characterises the current corporate climate and sheer lack of secrecy. Public scrutiny and access to information has reached a point where many crises develop from relatively minor issues due to the scale of attention of information leaked on social media.
Ignoring a crisis simply based on a lack of proactive response outside of social media, is assuming that people are also not observing or forming opinions – which is largely inaccurate. People are thinking and drawing their own conclusions, even when they do not act at that exact moment. Despite not rushing to the aid of the Syrian refugees, people active online felt each moment of the crisis – and this has a lasting impact. Indeed, while the crisis may be over, no one will forget the war crimes, the terror, and the haunting images on the web of children covered in rubble.
In a corporate crisis – as in any crisis - members of the public may not have all of the information. They may not be fully briefed in their understanding of the situation and may not take immediate action. They may not know who is completely at fault and they may not always care. But one thing is certain – without action, they associate the company with the crisis.
In a crisis, communicating proactively and providing clear, consistent messaging in a timely fashion is essential, particularly in this virtual world. Because even years in the future, when it may seem like a distant memory, people hold onto negative impressions – just like they’ll hold onto the heart-breaking tweets of Bana al-Abed from Aleppo - and that is the significance of the fact that the world is watching.