Navigating Crisis Communications in the Digital Era


Scandal doesn’t sleep—crisis can strike anywhere, at any time. A mismanaged crisis can cost a company an upwards of $7.45 million from loss of customer cost to post data breach response.  

In recent years, there has been dramatic growth in the percentage of U.S. adults using social media to gather their news and shape their thinking and with smartphone usage expected to increase to 2.87 billion by 2019, we can only expect this trend to continue. Bad news can travel fast on social media. As the internet continues to expand its reach across the globe, the speed and depth of coverage will become richer, meaning that bad news will travel even faster.

Consider coverage as a result of news spreading on social, how does this change how you respond in a crisis? Today, you can be extremely targeted in how you reach your audience with social media. Advanced planning is the only way to survive a disaster.

Sage Communications recently attended PRSA National Capital Chapter’s Crisis Management in the Age of Social Media workshop where Brian Ellis, Executive Vice President at Padilla, shared ways organizations can be better prepared to respond to a crisis. Here are some key takeaways from the workshop to help you manage a crisis in the digital era.

Timeline of a Crisis  

The first hour: What just happened?

The first hour is the only window you have shape the story. It’s critical to make sure you’re responding in this timeframe, as misinformation is likely to start spreading.

The next 1-2 hours: The Sharing phase 

If the story is wrong in the first phase, fixing it will be almost impossible. This period is when people share news at a rapid pace.

The next 2-6 hours: Misinformation Wave

This timeframe is where misinformation shifts.  

Cycle Repeats

Three Messages for Every Crisis  


Communicating with genuine and effective empathy in a crisis shows your organization is truly listening. During a crisis you also must define your core values. If you can’t follow your values in a moment of crisis, they’re worth nothing. 


Your organization’s plan is the only way to regain trust–demonstrating you know what to do. Outlining a schedule is one of the most important steps in crisis management. Establish a PR plan with social media response, clear roles and a script for those who need to respond.


Do you have all the answers? Everything you don’t know is dumped into the investigation. Demonstrating what’s involved in the investigation will garner audience trust and confidence in your organization.  

Tips for Communicating Crisis with Social Media

  • Monitor initial comments to judge tone and key themes

  • Identify key influencers

  • Engage when your messaging is finalized

  • Encourage people to visit your website for details

  • Use digital friendly content to tell your story

  • Populate your website with visuals, videos and links

  • Track engagement

For help defining your crisis communications strategy, visit

Sage Communications is committed to investing in a variety of external sources to enrich the understanding of the industries we work in. From guest speakers to webinars, conferences and other learning opportunities, Fishbowl will bring you analysis of the behind-the-scenes experiences here at Sage. 

*All data referenced came from the PRSA National Capital Chapter Crisis Management in the Age of Social Media Event with Brian Ellis, Executive Vice President at Padilla.

X-SageJim McIntyre