Does social media mean all crises are global?

According to a new survey into crisis communications by law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer 28% of crises are spreading internationally within an hour, and 69% within 24 hours.

Clearly, the onus is on companies to prepare to assess crisis threats and their likelihood of going global. They must make sure that social media are firmly embedded within crisis risk assessment, planning and response, not least during the critical first hour. In addition, multi-channel crisis simulation exercises should be conducted amongst teams in multiple locations.

Freshfields_digitalcrisisresponse_Nov2013

Source: Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, November 2013

The accompanying report (pdf) goes on to state that there ‘is no longer such a thing as a national crisis’. This makes some sense in the context of a report on multinationals, yet despite the reach of CNN and other 24-hour news operations and the pervasiveness of social media, there are plenty of scenarios when crises do not go global. These include:

  • Footprint: if the company has no foreign operations, stakeholders or relevance and where its reputation is essentially local or national
  • Language: where the language in which the company operates is little spoken outside its domestic borders eg. Japan
  • Affinity: where potential for word of mouth is limited to due to local/small-scale or weak online affinity communities.

A case in point is Hoi Tin Tong, a herbal medicine retail chain based in Hong Kong that was recently hauled into the spotlight by a study finding that its turtle jelly – the firm’s signature product – has very little or no turtle shell, on the heels of a video purporting to show mouldy jelly being prepared for sale.

Covered in detail by the local press, including the venerable South China Morning Post, and the subject of considerable speculation in Hong Kong’s highly active online communities, the story has proved immensely damaging to the firm, whose founder is now talking of shuttering stores.

Despite the firm operating stores in mainland China and Macau, the story has failed to catch light in other markets. Why? Perhaps because the company is principally a local Hong Kong player and online/offline coverage has been principally in Cantonese, a language not understood even by most mainland Chinese.

Your thoughts? What else is stopping crises going global?

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