The end of the “just trust me” era of crisis management

By Sydney Isaacs & Jesse Rachelle


How has corporate crisis management evolved over the past 20 years? From the proliferation of social media to the rise of “stakeholder capitalism” to the increasingly divisive and heated rhetoric about many social and political issues, the communications landscape has shifted substantially – and crisis management has had to shift with it. We discussed just some of these changes in Cadence Bank’s recent “In Good Companies” podcast episode.[i] Here are just a few of the ways crisis management has changed over the past two decades:


  1. Trust in institutions broadly and corporations specifically has eroded.

Trust in the corporation, like many of our once-revered institutions, has declined. This is something we saw prominently at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The institutions of government, science and business that sought to help mitigate the crisis were often met with skepticism and distrust. To complicate matters, disinformation, perpetuated online by algorithms and echo chambers, has propelled us into a “post-truth world.” What does this mean for companies facing a crisis? They can no longer tell their stakeholders: “Trust us, we got this.” Companies should communicate through actions that demonstrate their commitments rather than relying on words alone. They should also lean on independent third parties who can more credibly and objectively make the company’s case.


  1. Social media complicates crises – but there’s a silver lining.

Every crisis, even if it doesn’t originate on a digital channel, has the potential to spread to social media, online news outlets, online searches and forums, adding more attention and new voices that could amplify the issue at hand. While online chatter can prove to be daunting in a crisis, it offers informative, quantifiable metrics that can help determine how the public perceives information, how that information impacts corporate reputation and what trends are happening within a news cycle related to a crisis. Should a company decide to use digital media proactively to address audiences during a crisis, it can quickly ascertain what messages seem to be resonating among key audiences – especially among influencers with reach in social and earned media. Digital allows for these insights to be gathered and assessed in real time, offering a critical tool in protecting public reputation.


  1. Companies are expected to take sides on social issues.

The expectations of a company’s stakeholders, from employees to customers to elected officials, have changed significantly the past 10 years. Political issues and even seemingly non-political issues can quickly become divisive, and companies are increasingly expected to take a side and to back that opinion up with action. This pressure, which often comes from multiple divergent angles, adds risk to an already fraught situation. When navigating a crisis, be sure to have a clear north star and deep understanding of what drives the company’s unique stakeholders. It pays off to be prepared and practice crisis management with tabletop simulations that include curveballs reflecting several intersecting issues and interests.


  1. The news cycle is constantly spinning.

The speed of news has increased dramatically over the last two decades. In 2024, an article or a post can be posted, updated or taken down in an instant. In this 24/7 news environment, the cycle is exponentially shorter, with the latest headline continuously taking over the last. In a crisis, this can be an advantage, but it also means any good news is just a blip on the radar. When facing negative media or social media attention during a crisis, take a step back and remember that while it may be intense, consider whether responding in that moment would help or would simply prolong the news cycle.


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If you’re interested in learning more about the basics of crisis management and how it has evolved, listen to Cadence Bank’s podcast, where we dive deeper into how to handle and prevent a wide variety of crises.i

[i] Sydney Isaacs, Managing Director and head of the Houston office at H/Advisors Abernathy, appeared on Cadence Bank’s “In Good Companies” podcast on April 16, 2024. You can listen to the episode here: