SINGAPORE: A poorly managed crisis response can be more damaging to a brand than the incident itself, a senior airline marketer believes.

Dennis Owen, Group Manager/Social Media for Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific, is under no illusion that "a failure to plan is a plan to fail" when it comes to managing a brand crisis in the digital age, particularly as live video and real-time information add new challenges.

"Social media has forever changed how we communicate in a crisis," Owen told the recent Socialbakers conference in Bali. (For more, including advice on developing a social-media led crisis response plan, read Warc's exclusive report: Managing crisis communications in 'real-time': Cathay Pacific's approach.)

"When you have a crisis, how you communicate around that crisis can have more of a long-term effect on your brand than the actual situation," he said. "It's up to us as brands to understand those changes."

With trackers like Flightradar 24 and video streaming providing real-time information outside of company control, Owen argued that brands should prioritise social media as the first channel of response, although press releases can still play an important role.

"Everyone likes to share news first, so these kind of things can go viral very, very quickly. So that's why it's very important as an airline we stay on top of this and communicate as quickly as possible."

Owen advised brands to set up a crisis response checklist to guide staff in the immediate social media response.

"A crisis – 99.5% chance, in my view – is going to hit social first. You need to respond (there) first," he stated.

"The world is very, very different. You used to get the press release out in the first hour, with all of the details, as much as you knew… That day is over. It's social media first… press releases are secondary to social media, but they're both important. "

Data sourced from Warc