After all the snow and ice that has besieged the UK in the last week, it might seem strange to suggest there are communications lessons that can be learned. Yet, this is precisely what we are seeing as Britain recovers from the combined efforts of “Storm Emma” and “The Beast from the East”.

The travails of Thames Water are a case in point: no sooner had the artic conditions subsided than the company was struggling to meet the needs of its customers with, at one point, twenty thousand people in London alone left without water.

The failure of infrastructure is of course a serious issue in its own right; but frustrations have been exacerbated severely by the company’s communications efforts which were criticised for a failure to provide information and respond to customer complaints, many of which have come via social media.

This instance draws comparisons with the infamous communications failures of Eurostar in 2010, when the company publicly proclaimed all was fine despite a barrage of social media chatter with passengers “live tweeting” their experiences and poor conditions while stranded in the Channel Tunnel.

Like Eurostar before it, Thames Water’s experiences reiterate the need to have social media at the heart of crisis communications strategies. In today’s 24/7 environment, reputationally damaging stories often originate from social media and escalate from there.

It is fair to say that the majority of businesses understand the importance of social media overall; however, for many it is seen as a tool to engage audiences, thereby supporting wider profile raising and business development efforts. Many businesses, particularly in the B2C space, use social media extremely successfully for promotional purposes, however the majority of companies have found it far more difficult to manage such channels reactively in the event of crisis scenarios.

We have addressed the issue of crisis communications on a number of occasions in the past; particularly the importance of having defined structures in place so that communication plans can be seamlessly implemented (both proactively and reactively).

More than ever, social media needs to form part of these structures, with careful monitoring and quick, clear responses to react to the problems being raised. Failing to do so means companies run the risk of losing control of the media narrative, which can have disastrous long-term consequences for business profile and future growth – just ask Thames Water.