MSLGROUP Crisis Network Report: Every Crisis is Global, Social, Viral

(This is an introduction to MSLGROUP’s Crisis Network report titled “Every Crisis is Global, Social, Viral” that I wrote with Pascal Beucler, MSLGROUP’s Chief Strategy Officer)

The 2010s are turning out to be the decade rich in the myriad shades of crisis. Crisis management in today’s fragile world is intrinsically interlinked with global shifts in trust and power between individuals, influencers and institutions.

The End of Trust

The decade has witnessed a profound erosion of trust in all types of institutions, including governments and corporations.

Even as North America and Europe prepare for a prolonged double dip financial crisis, we have seen social unrest in France, UK, Spain and Greece; a grassroots movement to occupy public spaces across the United States to protest against capitalism; right wing terrorist attacks in peaceful Norway; disclosure of state secrets by Wikileaks; a series of regime changes across the Arab world; and a sex scandal disgracing the IMF.

Even in the buoyant emerging economies of India, China and Brazil, the hitherto silent middle class is beginning to raise its voice and take to the streets to protest against chronic corruption that disproportionately rewards the entrenched elite at the cost of the other 99%; and the low quality of life that persists in spite of increased prosperity.

Trust in corporations, too, is at an all-time low, as a result of astronomical executive salaries paid by banks and auto companies, even as they were being bailed out by public funds; BP’s inability to either control the Gulf of Mexico oil spill for almost nine months, or take full responsibility for it; and perceptions of greenwashing by corporations, brought in sharp focus a series of viral campaigns by Greenpeace.

We are also seeing anger against the inability of governments and corporations to show the will to solve our most pressing problems: the short-sighted dependence on fossil fuels that threatens to undermine our planet’s ecosystem; the tradeoffs between economic progress and the good life, like urban pollution and lifestyle diseases; and the barriers to achieve the full human potential, with more than half the world’s population still struggling with poverty, malnutrition, disease and illiteracy.

Power to the People

At the same time, people have new sources of power, as individuals and communities.

First, people are beginning to believe that governments and corporations have failed them and only they themselves can come up with innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.

Second, people are leveraging social media platforms to create new public spaces for discourse and dissent that are irrevocably reshaping the global news ecosystem; organize themselves into distributed communities with a shared purpose and a shared vision for a better future; co-create new social innovation solutions and sustainable business models; and collaborate across continents to coordinate participation and action and act as catalysts for change.

Third, people are demanding that governments become both more transparent and less intrusive with their citizens; that government and corporations work together to create an ecosystem that enables civic participation; that corporations not only rediscover their social purpose but also put it at the core of how they engage with people, as employees, consumers and citizens.

Facebook’s Marc Zuckerberg underlined these shifts during the recent “e-G8” we organized in Paris: “People being empowered is the trend for the next decade: that’s the core social dynamics… People have the ability to voice their opinion, and it changes the world, as it rewires it from the ground up”.

Unilever’s Paul Polman has also pointed to the new risks such power creates for corporations: “If [social media activists] can bring down the Egyptian regime in a few weeks, they can bring us down in nanoseconds.”

Every Crisis is Global, Social and Viral

The social web is playing an important role in these shifts around trust, power, risk and crisis.

Specifically, we need to master three interplays shaping crisis in the “new normal”: the interplay between mainstream media and social media, the interplay between local and global dynamics, and the interplay between crisis planning and response.

First, the boundaries between mainstream media and social media are blurring as online influencers are linking to media stories and news organizations are quoting online influencers.

Second, no crisis is truly local in our interconnected world, as memes or hashtags can spread globally in seconds on the social web, yet local considerations must be factored into crisis planning and response.

Third, it’s critical to plan and prepare for crisis scenarios, but it’s even more important to respond to emergent crisis situations authentically, without over-reliance on scripted messages and workflows.

MSLGROUP Crisis Network

MSLGROUP Crisis Network is a global network of 50+ MSLGROUP crisis experts, with deep vertical expertise across industries and geographies, connected to each other by our proprietary People’s Lab crowdsourcing platform. Our experts can not only tap into each other’s insights in real time, but also leverage our proprietary crisis toolkit – including our crisis planning framework and our crisis simulation workshop — to help our clients plan for and respond to crisis situations effectively.

In a world where every crisis is global, social and viral, here’s a roadmap to think about the interconnections between trust, power, risk and crisis, from our experts at the MSLGROUP Crisis Network.

In the first section, we explore how social media is changing trust, power, risk and crisis. We start by looking at the role of social media in societal upheavals in the West, including the terrorist attack in Norway, the riots in London and the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US. Then, we move to the East and look at how social media is changing the news ecosystem in China, eroding the wasta system of personal influence in the Middle East and uniting the Indian middle class in a grassroots movement against corruption.

In the second section, we outline how corporations can leverage social media to manage risk and reputation. We outline how social media can play a role at each stage in the crisis curve, describe the art and science of crisis simulation, recommend engaging third party influencers in crisis planning, share lessons from managing the global Crisis Command Center for BP, provide a playbook for handling a crisis on Facebook and end with tips and tricks on crisis management from our network of senior trusted advisors.

In summary, here are the most important tips from our global network of crisis experts that you will see across this report:

1. Proactively work on crisis preparedness, including crisis simulation workshops, crisis manuals, crisis collaboration wikis and dark crisis websites.
2. Create local crisis plans in collaboration with key influencers, instead of merely localizing global crisis plans.
3. Train staff, including the C-suite, on the new news ecosystem and guidelines for social media engagement, before a crisis hits.
4. Specifically plan for communicating with all key influencers, including employees, as part of crisis planning.
5. Build trust assets, including the reputation of being rooted in a shared purpose, strong relationships with key influencers, and strong owned media channels like blogs and microblogs, before the crisis.
6. Respond to the crisis with authenticity, integrity and the will to do the right thing, not only say the right thing.

We sincerely hope that the insights and foresights we are bringing here will be useful to you. To know more about the MSLGROUP Crisis Network, or to subscribe to receive similar insights and foresights in the form of a quarterly newsletter, please visit

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