How to Stop the Snowball Effect with Crisis Comms?

Before we begin, it’s vitally important that we clarify one thing… mistakes can and will happen from time to time! In fact, mistakes are what make us human and often represent great learning opportunities.

However, when mistakes occur in the workplace, it’s usually the company that gets a bad rep. What’s more, considering that a business’s reputation is arguably its most valuable asset, it’s crucial that there is a contingency plan in place to avoid a snowball effect.

In line with the return of Understanding ModernGov’s training course ‘Effective Crisis Communications’; we decided to look back at real-life examples where companies were facing a crisis situation and how their communication strategy counteracted the issue.

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The Red Cross #gettngslizzerd

Social media has proven to be a highly useful marketing tool in the 21st century, with the number of people using at least one social media platform rising from 5% to 69% since 2005. With more and more social networking sites popping up every day and companies expecting their employees to be actively engaged 24/7; it’s no wonder that marketeers can get confused between work and personal profiles.

This is exactly what happened to the Red Cross in 2011 when a social media employee accidently sent a tweet from the company’s twitter about Dogfish Head (a craft brewery) beers and “gettingslizzerd”. Whilst the tweet was deleted an hour after being posted, the social media team at the Red Cross acted swiftly and in a humorous manner to ensure that, what could have easily escalated into a serious incident, was deemed to be more of an embarrassment. What’s more, Dogfish Head used the opportunity to encourage their followers to donate to the charity.

In this case, a little light-hearted humour helped extinguish the chance of any serious complaints and shows that a crisis can be avoided without a ‘traditionally professional’ response.

HSBC’s money troubles

Sometimes humour is not the answer and, much like when your parents asked you as a kid whether you stole a cookie from the biscuit tin, the best thing to do is just own up and admit responsibility. This is exactly what HSBC did in 2012 when, due to a technical error, their customers were unable to access their money via ATMs and debit cards weren’t working.

Instead of taking the usual approach to service disruptions and acting reactively to complaints on social media; HSBC had senior employees work with journalists and release statements explaining the situation. They took the bull by the horns and led the situation, explaining things clearly and admitting fault in a professional way.

They were able to restore their services and avoided a high level of serious complaints by taking control of the situation and being proactive with their communication.

Horsemeat Scandal

On some occasions there are crisis scenarios that seem unmanageable. This was the case in 2013 when major supermarkets around the country were found to be selling meat that contained an undeclared amount of horse. Companies such as Asda and Tesco found themselves being bombarded with complaints and concerns from the press and social media.

However, the social media teams realised the importance of proper analysis combined with rapid response. The first point of call was to recall the products being scrutinised and remove them from the supermarkets. However, instead of reacting immediately to the press and news outlets complaints, the social media team kept track of the social media chatter and noticed that many of their customers were more concerned about where their favourite lasagne, burgers and sausages had gone.

By analysing the social media channels and responding rapidly to any concerns that arose, they were able to effectively manage a crisis that, to many others, would have seemed a unsolvable disaster.


What have we learnt from these three examples of great crisis communication management? Mainly, there isn’t a strategy that is a ‘one size fits all’ and each scenario needs a tailored approach. However, there are three important take-aways to highlight:

  • Crises are time-sensitive and a quick response is crucial to avoid a snowball turning into an avalanche.
  • A personal touch can be the key to engaging the empathetic feelings of your customers – speak to them like you would like someone to speak to you.
  • Humility is vital and sometimes admitting you were in the wrong and that you are looking into fixing the issue can calm a situation.

Has your organisation had to deal with a crisis? What tips do you have? Have you experienced a crisis that you felt could have been handled better? Tweet us using #UMGTraining @UModernGov

Alternatively, If you would like to talk to member of our team about anything you have read in this blog; including Effective Crisis Communications on 23rd January 2018, please contact us on 0800 542 9440 or email [email protected].

Do you have a team of staff at your organisation who would benefit from Effective Crisis Communications training? We also offer this course as a highly flexible In-House training session, delivered direct to your organisation on a date to suit you. Contact our In-House Training team on [email protected] to find out more.