Lindsey CarnettLindsey Carnett

Crisis communications is an integral part of a brand’s survival. And in an age where social media can make or break a brand’s reputation, an effective crisis communications plan should be in place for all brands, forming an essential part of their communications strategy to protect image, meet industry regulations and conform to best practice.

Gen Z are perhaps the most influential and most targeted stakeholder group. 60 million Gen Z individuals are in the United States, outnumbering Millennials by a million. It’s estimated that by 2020, Generation Z will account for 40 percent of all consumers.

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

They’re always switched on: they use multiple devices, prefer video and voice messages over “traditional” text and email and are quick to respond in a digitally-public way to voice their approval and disapproval. This makes them a potential risk for brands if they want to publicly identify problems that they have experienced. Social media has changed the game, and particularly with Gen Z, as the most digitally native stakeholder group. Therefore, it’s particularly important for brands to effectively and positively engage with them.

Gen Z individuals value relationships based on trust and demand transparency from their brands. It’s a brand’s responsibility to grow and nurture these relationships, and those that do this well have strong relationships that are typically less affected by crisis situations.

An effective crisis communications plan should be in place for all brands and be able to be implemented immediately. This gives a brand the chance to be proactive, with the ability to control the narrative, deal with criticism and issue a robust response. In the age of digital media, this has never been more important.

While they can sometimes be part of the problem, it’s sensible for brands to work with this influential consumer group to increase their reach and profits as well as consult rapidly when crisis communication work is required.

How can brands win at crisis communications with Gen Z?

Have them help you be human. Be open, authentic and honest. Gen Zers can help brands with this. For brands to truly target and work with their target audience, involve an influencer within the drafting and creation of your response. They can help you come out from behind the screen, speaking the language and shaping the narrative that can win back trust and keep consumers on side.

Capitalize and work with them on user generated content. Brands that work with stakeholders to create user generated content can use this technique to build—or rebuild—trust post a crisis communications incident. Authentic content will appeal to stakeholders, particularly Gen Z individuals who enjoy and respond positively to updates that are genuine.

Video content. Gen Zers are in a hurry, consuming content on more than one device. Prioritizing video content is a strong strategy for brands in a crisis communications situation, and brands should focus on creating short, one-to-three-minute videos that get straight to the point, have a strong headline and provide information that consumers will find useful. It’s important to also include captions in the video for users who watch in their social media feeds, without the sound on.

Encourage sharing. For a response to a crisis to go viral—in the right way—it’s important that response is easily shareable. Brands should add sharing functionality and encourage supporters to share across their respective networks. Brands should also use their internal communications strategy to encourage employees to share the response.

New ways to shape and distribute responses. Effective crisis communications must be proactive to get ahead of the story and to shape the narrative. Responding to the story using social media techniques like live streamed statements and videos ensures that a response is put in front of the right audience at the right time. Additionally, using platforms for targeting can help brands get in front of the appropriate stakeholders and get ahead of the narrative.

True to values and beliefs. Gen Z individuals value real people, not celebrities. Authenticity is key and with FTC guidelines ensuring that bloggers and social creators must prominently display if and when they are creating paid content for brands. This provides Gen Z individuals—and other stakeholders—with honesty up front, helping to generate trust from the outset.

Gen Zers value personal connections and, as adult consumers, they’ll likely demand more transparency from the brands they buy and the companies that produce and sell them. This helps brands to generate genuine, stronger relationships with their customers.

For brands, it’s also important that they ensure their public facing image supports the corporate culture of their company. For them to not do so runs the risk of charges of hypocrisy, a decrease in trust and ultimately, loss of business.

To avoid a communications disaster played out in front of the world’s digital media, having a robust and proactive crisis communications plan in place is an essential tool for all brands. And working with the influential Gen Z to shape and drive forward is an effective approach for brand survival.


Lindsey Carnett is CEO and President of Marketing Maven, recognized for supporting clients with positive Online Reputation Management, crisis communications and integrated marketing campaigns.