Elizabeth CholisElizabeth Cholis

Any crisis communications manual relegated to a binder on the shelf is bound to gather dust. Many organizations’ strategies—too outdated and dense to be useful—languish virtually untouched on an office shelf or in a forgotten shared drive.

Unsurprisingly, research suggests that the era of the smartphone has ushered in dramatic change in the way we process information. Recent analysis published in World Psychiatry reveals that Internet and technology use has shortened the average person’s attention span and even taken a toll on memory processes. This is no shock to the growing majority of multitasking Americans, 81 percent of whom now own smartphones, according to the Pew Research Center.

O'Dwyer's Jan. '20 Crisis Communications Magazine
This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Jan. '20 Crisis Communications Magazine.

Despite the waning attention span, today’s digitally native professionals come equipped to adapt to cutting-edge interfaces and process information through user experience—presenting new methods for crisis preparedness and crisis management. Or at least, they should.

While rapid changes in technology have clearly altered the scope and cadence of crises themselves, it’s imperative that those managing these scenarios use technology that keeps up with the digital age—rather than solutions from a bygone era—to train for and execute good crisis management. These technology solutions—from online training to software platforms and apps—ensure that a carefully crafted plan is properly disseminated, understood and accessible at the swipe of a finger.

Promoting engagement

One of the largest barriers to implementing a crisis management strategy is moving past plan creation to ensure the leaders executing during a crisis understand both the plan and their individual roles. Online training modules can help ensure adoption of the new crisis plan by serving as an interface for the user to engage with directly (not requiring a trainer), designed to be visually engaging with customized, digestible content. Essentially, management teams need to meet their end users where they live—on their phones, tablets or computers. No one is scrapbooking their photos in 2020.

Issues management teams—and the plans themselves—are also increasingly put to the test through crisis simulations. By coming together and walking through a potential crisis specific to their business, the crisis response team experiences the onslaught of demands that come with a reputational challenge, as they field reporter requests, questions from employees, investor asks, enraged tweets and regulatory inquiries in real time. This act of “socializing” the strategy through a simulation provides an engaging opportunity for team members to learn by doing—in a way that is true to life, and not a soulless, paper-driven exercise. Simulation software has streamlined the process, facilitating these exercises in a contained, secure environment.

Expanding accessibility

Whether a multinational with operations around the world or a small localized business, companies increasingly require solutions for remote and/or mobile workforces. In the U.S. alone, remote working has increased 44 percent over the last five years, according to statistics published by FlexJobs.

Training modules and crisis simulations can now be administered to employees anywhere in the world, breaking down barriers that once prevented scattered teams from staying up to speed on available resources and individual expectations during a crisis. We’ve moved beyond simple conference calls, and crisis management teams are all the better for it.

By providing a virtual war room, crisis management apps offer the option to connect remotely—bridging potential gaps for geographically dispersed organizations and enabling flexibility in scheduling across time zones. While business travel and a remote workforce could have previously prevented a crisis team from executing in sync, the ease of a mobile app connects leaders on-the-go. And that’s a good thing, because it’s rare that companies can ensure real-world crises hit when teams are parked at their desks.

Even the most well-crafted communications strategy is useless if it’s not readily accessible during the critical moments of a crisis. A crisis app houses plans under easily navigable issue icons, keeping crucial strategies at a professional’s fingertips. From locating team contact information to identifying the right talking points, apps organize key components of a crisis response strategy for swift execution.

Ensuring efficiency

Perhaps technology’s largest contribution to crisis management is increased efficiency.

Once created for a crisis plan, online training modules require minimal future additions. The team can easily track who has completed the online training, conduct refresher courses and onboard new personnel. Simulation software automates the process and eases the burden of building manual simulations, in addition to providing important data for evaluation post-simulation. All of this lends an important continuity to crisis readiness across the organization.

The crisis management app is, to me, the holy grail of where we’re trying to move businesses when they consider organizational crisis readiness. It categorizes information and makes sure everyone is working from the most up-to-date documents and resources available. It restricts various permissions to ensure participants do not stray from their areas of responsibility, preventing duplication of efforts in the process. It also ensures the content of a crisis plan is digestible, making a scenario plan mobile-friendly by homing in on only the most essential and functional content. Consider running an airline; now consider how difficult it would be to reach a disparate workforce responsible for crisis response without a resource that sits on a flight attendant’s phone.

Further, by design the app automates and insists on arguably the most important aspect of effective crisis management: collaboration. Through notifications, secure chats, polling and shared checklists, the crisis management team can act as a cohesive unit focused on reputation management, strategy development and stakeholder outreach.

Crisis communications technology solutions are now cornerstones of modern issues management. The capabilities associated with these technologies meet the demands of a crisis team in the digital era. Just as rapid changes in technology have created new crises such as data breaches and viral social media events, so too have they expanded the crisis communications toolkit. We can be thankful for that, if skeptical of the practical utility of some of the gifts of the digital age. These new offerings maximize preparation and streamline execution—guiding crisis communications teams to engage successfully with even the most demanding of reputational challenges.


Elizabeth Cholis is a Managing Director in the strategic communications segment at FTI Consulting and a member of FTI’s Crisis & Issues Management practice.

The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting, Inc., its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals.