28 April 2015
Germanwings 9525: An analysis of the evolving role of digital technology on crisis communications
As technology transforms the way people and organisations find, create and share information, so too must communications professionals strive to remain on top of the trends driving this transformation. This is particularly true in times of crisis. At H+K, we regularly track and analyse the behaviours of different actors involved in major events and the roles played by different technologies. Our counsel to clients confronting catastrophic events often depends on our ability to understand and predict the way different stakeholders – media, governments, suppliers, and publics – will act and react, and meet their expectations for timely, transparent and frequent communications. It is events such as these that often force us to rethink the status quo.
When crises involve injury and loss of life – such as the Costa Concordia disaster of 2012, and the Asiana Airlines crash at San Francisco airport in 2013 – the importance of communicating effectively, sensitively, and in the context of these changes, is even greater. The tragic March 24th crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 further reinforced the importance of digital technology as a vital communications medium in the early hours of the incident. At the same time, and as demonstrated by the Costa Concordia and Asiana Airlines tragedies, our analysis also revealed how the reliance on technology also proved to be a challenge for certain players as websites crashed and as social media, for a few hours at least, became the default conduit of vital information.
The presentation below is based on an external analysis conducted by the H+K Belgium team of the online communications activities of key players involved in the Germanwings Flight 9525 crash, as well as media and public reaction. It examines some of the key events that impacted how these players – including Lufthansa, Airbus, and affected airports – evolved their communications activities in the face of intense scrutiny, emotion, and digital overload in the first six hours of the incident. While the conclusions build on trends that have existed for many years – for example, adapting online corporate branding to reflect the scale of the crisis, having back-ups in place to prevent website crashes, and having an adaptable social media strategy in place – this latest event also highlighted emerging evolutions in real-time reporting by media, integration of social commentary into news streams, and the role of visuals (or lack thereof) as accelerants of misinformation, speculation and amplification.