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Can AI bots address a brand's crisis communication: BCW India Group's Sheena Sharma explains how

A lot has been said in the communications industry about AI as something to be wary of.

Sheena Sharma, chief issues and crisis officer, BCW India Group

Misinformation, erroneous copy, bias, and even weaponised information are real and present dangers that AI has brought to our doorstep. But there is a reason global marketing and communications functions are investing in it. 

AI can turbo-charge analytics, both predictive and descriptive (analysing what has happened) and come to a communicator’s aid in a time of crisis.

As an example, let’s imagine there is a well-established fashion brand called TrendStyle. TrendStyle, which has a substantial social media follower base, decides to launch a new clothing line targeting a younger demographic. 

In its promotional campaign, it uses a phrase that it believes is trendy and edgy but is culturally insensitive. Social media users quickly notice the blunder, and the hashtag #BoycottTrendStyle starts trending on various platforms. The brand must issue an apology and end its campaign, but the damage has been done and substantial efforts are required to regain consumer trust.

Brands today are increasingly finding themselves under intense scrutiny, with missteps requiring immediate and strategic responses, no matter the nature. Crisis preparedness and mitigation is, and should be, a key requirement from communicators, but traditional crisis communication approaches alone are not enough anymore. With a comprehensive new digital PR toolkit at our disposal, PR professionals should embrace a new era of more efficient, data-driven and proactive crisis management.

AI's role in crisis communications

AI's transformative power lies in its ability to process vast amounts of data swiftly and efficiently. In the context of crisis communications, this translates to early detection and monitoring capabilities. 

AI-powered tools can scour the digital landscape, including social media, news outlets, and online forums, to spot potential crises in their infancy.

If our hypothetical company, if TrendStyle had incorporated AI as part of its communications toolbox, it would have been able to develop messaging that addressed the issue at hand in real time. For instance, it could have used cognitive AI to track what the audience is thinking, AI chatbots to address frequently asked questions conversationally and email marketing automation to keep the audience engaged in all new developments. Additionally, they could have used predictive analytics to forecast future outcomes of the campaign and deploy social listening to gauge public sentiment and adjust responses accordingly.

AI-driven crisis response strategies

Going back to where we started—it is true that with AI, brands and even governments around the world are more susceptible to weaponised information. The best form of defence against AI threats must be AI-enabled. 

This results in an effective evaluation of the potential impact of different types of content across defined audience segments that is based on observable, repeatable data, leading to an effective strategy, resulting in mitigating any crises.

Several organisations have already harnessed the potential of AI in crisis communication. For instance, some have employed AI chatbots to not only disseminate ‘frequently asked questions’ but to solve any problems that the user is facing by composing a reply. 

Since AI chatbots use technologies like machine learning, natural language processing and understanding, the need for a dedicated customer service team is reduced significantly. This ensures stakeholders receive accurate and up-to-date information.

The human touch, ethical considerations and transparency

What we must remember, however, is that AI is a tool. It can help you save time and effort, but it is meant to support human beings, not replace them. The key is to strike the right balance between the capabilities of AI and the empathy and ethical values that only humans can provide. 

In the same vein, the adoption of AI in crisis communication is not without its ethical considerations. Transparency is paramount. While AI can enhance response times and accuracy, it must be used responsibly and ethically. Human oversight and judgment remain essential.

To address potential biases in AI algorithms and ensure fair and ethical decision-making, organisations must commit to ongoing training and development. 

The future of crisis communications

Looking ahead, we can anticipate exciting developments in AI-driven crisis communication. AI will continue to evolve, providing real-time crisis prediction and prevention capabilities for organisations. 

I envision AI seamlessly integrated into crisis simulations and preparedness exercises, helping businesses add another dimension to their scenarios. 

As we navigate this new era of AI, one thing is clear: the adoption of AI is not optional but a strategic necessity. Together, we can harness the full potential of AI to navigate crises efficiently, protect reputations, and emerge stronger on the other side.

Sheena Sharma, chief issues and crisis officer, BCW India Group

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