Content and crisis management

Investment in content, social media and online advertising is increasing, putting more and more pressure on brands to excel in the digital sphere. Now more than ever, a company is represented by the sum of its digital parts. People know about a brand through its online activity. And when a crisis strikes, a brand must address this through their online presence.

While most organisations have HR or PR departments to handle crises, many incidents will require their own content strategy. Nicole Matejic is an expert in crisis communications and an international social media advisor. She says, “brands should plan for crisis communications on social media just as they would any business continuity activity.” 

Here’s a look at the relationship between content and crises over the past few years, with reasons why some of the strategies failed, and others succeeded.


The recent Volkswagen scandal shows that sometimes no amount of catchy content or philanthropy can make up for public deception. But as far as strategy goes, they have offered up a fairly smart response. In fact Nicole says, “Volkswagen’s engineered crisis response is a smart, yet dirty, play. By making their crisis narrative about their corporate legacy and comparing their crisis communications to the debacle of 2 years ago, they are successfully retaining control over the lesser of two narrative evils.”

Planning should start at your worst case through to your best case scenario. For an airline, for example, that would look like – worst case an aviation accident (fatalities) best case lost luggage and hurt feelings. Businesses already know what their crisis touch points are – they just need to apply some strategy proactively to prevent an issue from igniting into a crisis,” says Nicole.

See Nicole’s SlideShare for more information on planning for crisis management.


In 2013, American Airlines was caught red faced sending out automated twitter responses. A Twitter user, Ross Sheingold, found their responses odd – especially when the airline was sent an abusive Tweet, only to thank the sender for their support.

With that, the Twitterverse seized the chance to hurl more abuse at American Airlines, to culminate in a very embarrassing social media performance from the company which was picked up by major news channels. The airline’s response to the gaff didn’t do much to lessen their scrutiny either; they chose to delete their automated tweets and replied to the abusive tweets with fairly impersonal, ineffective messages.  

Not all airlines are liable for social media faux pas however. Virgin is renowned for delighting customers with their witty, engaging social media posts and content. Virgin has over 1 million Twitter followers across various accounts.

In 2013  Virgin Trains made headlines with a Twitter response to train passenger who ran out of toilet paper. They tweeted to the man in need and promptly delivered him fresh toilet paper, to result in a viral twitter conversation and a lot of laughs. Virgin are a stellar example of a brand that knows how to interact with its audience, in a fun, engaging and helpful way. People genuinely like engaging with this brand, which means they genuinely like the brand. Customer conversion – check.



General Electric have managed to leverage the power of a huge marketing refresh (in addition to other things) to bounce back from a staggering blow in the financial crisis back in 2009, with shares slumping to $6.5.

With a concerted effort to reinvest in industrial manufacturing, and an impressive marketing and content output, the company is back to its glory days, with shares up to the $28 mark. And while their industry could be at risk of putting out content that is dry, technical, and just plain boring – they have dodged this bullet and stamped their brand on some truly inspiring content. Their website features great imagery, profile pieces, industry articles, technology information, motion graphics and their own newsroom.  Even their Instagram is cool, with beautiful photography, graphics and behind the scenes images of the machinery and technology. A rare achievement for a company like GE.

They have been successful because they are not trying to sell their products and services, they are informing and inspiring. People actually admire their brand, which means they will be likely to have an interest in their products  and their achievements too. 



Social media can be a great way to address a branding crisis and reconnect with lost customers. That was supposedly the idea behind Melbourne’s recent  #YourTaxis campaign. Unfortunately for taxis everywhere, this campaign proved to do just the opposite, and actually fuelled the brand’s crisis even further. Their hashtag was hijacked by the disenfranchised public who took to Twitter to voice all the bad experiences they’d ever had in taxis. This marketing misstep has been hailed as the Australian PR fail of the year, and has created even more work ahead for the organisation, to gain back customer approval.

The #YourTaxis campaign was meant to allow people to voice their concerns, and start a means for the company to engage with its audience. Their rival, Uber, has used social media to great effect when calling for public support. But this is a great lesson in social media strategy. These platforms cannot be used to fix critical problems within an organisation itself. The team behind the #YourTaxis campaign severely misjudged public opinion of the organisation – and this opinion has been formed by years of bad service, poor community engagement and inability to compete with new options.

The bottom line is any content or social media driven campaign must reflect the workings of the rest of the organisation. The #YourTaxis campaign did not do that, and the people spoke.