Apple’s Revolutionary Smartphone Has Challenged and Empowered Crisis Communicators
6/29/22 – – There was a time, not long ago, when an angry response from a flight attendant, the political rantings of an unhinged high school teacher, or the immoral lifestyle of a politician’s son would likely go unnoticed; observed fleetingly by only a handful of people in the immediate vicinity of the offending behavior.
That all changed on June 29, 2007 — the first day customers were able to buy the Apple iPhone, a revolutionary communications tool that put the processing power of a computer, the connectivity of a mobile phone and the visual capabilities of a camera in the palm of your hand. Over the last 15 years, this miraculous device has changed just about every aspect of our lives and reshaped the challenges, opportunities and pace of crisis communication.
Let’s examine the iPhone’s extraordinary influence on the disciplines of reputation management and public relations through the lens of mobility, ubiquity, velocity, transparency and intimacy.
In 2007, the internet was already transforming the way companies and individuals connected with each other around the world. But most of us accessed the wonders of the web on desktop or laptop computers, which were not very portable. The iPhone, with its small screen and reasonable battery life, allowed us to conveniently take these capabilities with us everywhere, night or day. We learned how to use it to shop, navigate, communicate and play. With the iPhone’s camera, we could snap, save and share a photograph of whatever we saw, wherever we were. The iPhone became an extension of our eyes, ears, brain and voice.
It’s estimated that Apple has shipped close to 3 billion iPhones in the 15 years of the product’s life. Add to that the devices manufactured by other companies and you can understand why it seems like smartphones are everywhere. In the United States, consumers at all economic levels and in all age categories own and center their lives around smartphones.
Because smartphones are everywhere and with us all the time, everyone is a potential “citizen journalist,” armed with high-definition video capabilities requiring little or no operator competence. Within seconds, live footage from a railroad derailment, political protest or customer service encounter can be posted online. Powerful platforms are in place to instantly share your footage or involuntary screen test with audiences around the world — with no news media filter.
The iPhone has made the workings of our institutions and companies far more transparent — like it or not. It’s almost impossible to keep the content of sensitive presentations and HR meetings from being leaked to broader-than-intended audiences. Activities “in the field” are no longer out of sight.
The iPhone’s 2007 introduction was rocket fuel for the growth of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which were founded in 2004 and 2006. The iPhone has made it very easy for people of all ages to unthinkingly share too much about themselves and get into trouble on these channels. Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthhammer famously described tweets as, “A direct conduit from the unfiltered id. They erase whatever membrane normally exists between one’s internal disturbances and their external manifestations.”
The good news is that the iPhone, despite all the trouble it has created, has proven to be an indispensable tool for crisis communicators. The smartphone’s mobility, ubiquity, velocity, transparency and intimacy enable companies in the eye of a reputational storm to quickly, efficiently respond to crises. All members of a well-prepared crisis team are equipped with and rely heavily upon smartphones to gather information, stay connected and initiate response.
So, happy birthday, iPhone. You’ve created more than your share of heartache for crisis communicators, but you’ve also helped us stay on our best behavior and given us a powerful tool to navigate a storm.