Secret to surviving a crisis? Get your CEO on social media
Social Media Marketing

Secret to surviving a crisis? Get your CEO on social media

14th November 2023

If Silicon Valley Bank’s CEO had been more vocal on social media, the bank might not have collapsed.

In March 2023, they sent out a covert request for additional capital. Conversations between institutional and retail investors started bubbling almost immediately. Journalists joined the fray. Then the depositors got involved, forming the straw that broke the camel’s back. Two days later, they went bust. 

Back in the day, those conversations would’ve taken place on Bloomberg bulletin boards or internal email threads, out of the public eye. But because this happened in 2023, they were taking place on WhatsApp groups, Twitter (X), and LinkedIn, for the scrutiny of almost anyone. 

And Silicon Valley Bank is far from the only business to experience this. A public collapse could happen to almost any business at any time. But would you know what to do if social channels were blazing with hate about your company? 

Charlotte Lander would. As director of social media, corporate affairs, brand and marketing at Standard Chartered Bank, it’s her job to keep the organisation primed on how to react in the event of a crisis. Hot off the back of her new peer-reviewed paper on social media’s role in the sudden and dramatic demise of Silicon Valley Bank and Credit Suisse, we sat down with her to discuss best practice for social media as a reputation management tool.

It’s a given that any mature business will have risk management processes in place. Silicon Valley Bank did. But perhaps they hadn’t realised quite how connected their customer base is, and that that connectedness posed a weakness. 

Everyone’s a master of hindsight, but predicting which precise factor could trigger the downfall of your company isn’t always obvious — particularly when it could be something so mundane that it doesn’t even register as a threat. ‘In some of these cases, it’s neutral facts that spread. It doesn’t necessarily need to be negative sentiment,’ says Charlotte. 

‘The factual and neutral statements had as big an impact as any negative sentiment. So it wasn’t necessarily that people were just piling onto the bandwagon to share negative news. Actually, there was a lot of truth in what they were saying, and that spread as quickly as that negative commentary.’

But unfortunately there’s not a lot you can do to stop people discussing harmful yet factual information about your business on public forums. At that point, there’s often little that can be done about the problem itself, and customers will be focusing their judgement on what you do next, not the triggering incident itself. 

Charlotte says that having a credible, authentic leader at the forefront of your customer relations is key for reputation management in today’s world, citing AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandez’s excellent handling of its tragic 2014 crash. 

Tony was a prolific tweeter before the incident, regularly sharing his candid views with followers. But when disaster struck in the form of a technical fault that resulted in the death of 162 AirAsia passengers, he leapt into action to perform damage control. 

‘Very quickly, what Tony did as the CEO was to be very present. Within hours, he was talking to families of those impacted,’ says Charlotte. ‘He was making statements about what their commitment was in terms of finding out what had happened, and doing everything that they possibly can to help those families and friends.’ 

As a result, Tony Fernandez actually received positive coverage for his handling of the situation — no mean feat during the number one worst case scenario for any airline. But while B2B marketers are unlikely to find themselves with blood on their digital hands, it’s still worth priming your CEO to go Tony-mode in the event of an emergency.

‘When you think about senior leaders, it’s always really useful to have a plan about what they will and won’t talk about. And in a crisis, how do you involve the CEO in that situation? What are they comfortable with? What position will they take and what information do they need in order to do that? Having a plan in place is hugely beneficial.’

If you’re unsure of where to begin when it comes to planning, Charlotte recommends problem statements. ‘That’s where I always start,’ she says. ‘I like to think about the worst case scenario then work backwards, but also think about what we would and wouldn’t want to be communicated.’ 

She splits these ideas into two different categories: proactive communications from a marketing standpoint (e.g. ‘People are saying that our new solution is too expensive, what can we say to demonstrate otherwise?’), and emergency situations for which you need content ready to go (e.g. ‘People are saying that our new solution leaked all of their customer data — HELP!’). 

However, simply wheeling out a premade apology video from your head honcho isn’t going to cut it. Ideally, your leadership team should already have an established social media presence before you let them handle an onslaught. And Charlotte believes this is a generally useful tool for building trust in any climate.

‘I’m a huge believer in advocacy and the power of your senior leaders to share that thought leadership,’ she says. ‘The data backs it up. Edelman’s trust barometer is showing that the cycle of distrust is growing. But what’s useful is that, although who you trust is shrinking, you’re much more likely to trust your friends, colleagues, and co-workers, but also your CEO — more so than journalists, more so than the government.’ 

In other words, getting your leaders out there, digitally-speaking, is a vital tool in humanising your brand and developing lasting relationships with customers. Because brands that have built that trust can survive a cock-up, while those that haven’t, probably won’t. 

But it’s not just the big cheese that needs to start sowing the seeds of social harmony. Anyone leading a department that relates to a problem statement should have an action plan in the event of a social media crisis. 

‘[Stakeholder] buy-in is hugely important,’ says Charlotte. ‘And that’s where it comes back to those problem statements, because if you have an area of the business that problem statements apply to, they’re usually more than happy to come on board and understand what might be being said about the brand and what you need to do. And they actually want to control that messaging. It’s usually very easy to bring people with you if you explain the potential issues, as we’ve discussed today.’ 

And if they protest at your suggestion to start posting online more often, remind them that the majority of FTSE 100 leaders are now active on LinkedIn. If the busiest business leaders in the world have time to do it, your boss does, too!

Listen: Discover Charlotte’s expert insight into building your social media emergency protocol in the full podcast, including the most important drivers of trust and how to start measuring them.


Written By
Ornella Weston is the managing director of boutique agency Duckman Copy Ltd. Throughout her career, she’s written everything from white papers to websites, from billboards to board game instructions. Now it’s time to add op-eds to the list. The marketing world is full of flops and failures, often at great...
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