Interview: Social Media Firestorm Management at Deutsche Telekom after #Drosselkom

Krisenmonitoring im Group Situation Center der Deutschen Telekom

I have been running the Facebook-Page „Shitstorm* Schnüffler“ since 2012. The most beautiful thing is, that I can not only post about social media firestorms, but that I also get to know other social media firestorm maniacs like Robert Schwerdtner is one.

Robert is concerned with online firestorms on the job at Deutsche Telekom and follows the „Shitstorm Schnüffler“ on Facebook. In the last summer he invited me to Bonn and I was allowed to take a look at the Group Situation Center of the Telekom. Robert is quite an interesting interview partner for the Drosselkom case, because he is working at the „Cyber Defense and Situation Management“ department of Deutsche Telekom. He is specialized on social media crises and social media monitoring.

I wanted to know how the crisis-team of Deutsche Telekom is working, how it was when the Drosselkom-Firestorm raged down from the sky and what they learned from it. The result is the following interview.

Robert Schwerdtner: Experte für Notfall und Krisenmanagent bei der Deutschen Telekom AG

Robert Schwerdtner: Expert for emergency and crisis management at Deutsche Telekom AG

Robert, when we spoke about the Drosselkom-Firestorm for the first time, you quoted Willa Cather: „There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.“ What have you learned from the incident at Deutsche Telekom?

I usually start my presentations on the topic of social media crisis management with this quote. It represents the lessons we had to learn from this widespread cross media scolding. In general it is very difficult to prepare for such incidents in detail since every incident is different. Specifically, we were able to improve how Deutsche Telekom responds in times of storm, how we maintain a clear view on the situation and how we coordinate us internally.

The word „Shitstorm“ is not used internally at Deutsche Telekom, and the Drosselkom incident is not called a crisis. Why?

We do use the word „shitstorm“ sometimes, because it is common phrase for a tense online situation in German. Nevertheless, not every single negative tweet or post is a „shitstorm“ and not every „shitstorm“ ends at the boundaries of digital media. Depending on how intense the specific situation is, we use the terminology of social media incidents, emergencies or crises internally.

You are working at the Group Situation Center (GSC) of Deutsche Telekom. What are your tasks and how does your team fulfill them?

The Group Situation Center is the „intelligent alarm system“ of Deutsche Telekom. The team is organized in the corporate security within the department „Cyber Defense and Situation Management“. We are the contact and communication hub for the group concerning its current situation and travel security. In the area of social media, we take charge of the coordination of different departments as well as of the documentation and moderation if a certain level of escalation has been exceeded.

Krisenmonitoring im Group Situation Center der Deutschen Telekom

Situation monitoring at the Group Situation Center at Deutsche Telekom

Is the Group Situation Center a kind of „Social Media Command Center“ or a „Social Media War Room“ as we call it in the digital sphere? In such facilities a team of experts conduct social media media listening, develops reaction strategies and mitigates negative publicity with active posting.

We do not call it that way. We are not at war with anyone. But what we do is online monitoring of classic and social media, as far as a clear distinction of the latter is possible today. We only follow information which publicly available and relevant to the security of Deutsche Telekom and its subsidiaries.

Which kinds of emergencies and crises do you distinguish at Deutsche Telekom? What is a crisis and what is not? 

We use general distinctions between emergencies and crises. Crises are existential threats to more than one business unit of the company. Emergencies usually focus on only one business segment and the reactions are already prepared within emergency plans.

Which kind of prevention measures does Deutsche Telekom take against crises in general?

There are countless ways to prepare for such situations. We rely on self-developed processes and concepts, internal and external networks as well as on trainings. These trainings include theoretical components on crisis processes and practical exercises.

How do you identify risks in time and avert them?

Risk assessment has a high priority within a stock listed companies. We try and contribute added value with that. The services Deutsche Telekom is providing are part of a so-called critical infrastructure which needs to be provided by law. In order to control these risks, we run a preventive monitoring for our departments which detects any problems in an early stage. Informing the right authorities as fast and completely as possible helps avoiding these „dangers“. Among other things, we monitor risks withinin our supply chain, but also planned strikes for instance.

Which challenges come up with that and how do you meet them? 

In a global corporation international monitoring is a major challenge. This can only work when everyone works together as a team. That includes other departments as well as the workers council and us.

Deutsche Telekom uses the in-house solution „Cyber Threat Radar“ next to common services like Hootsuite, Mention or Vico for social media monitoring. What exactly is this tool capable of?

The „Cyber Threat Radar“ is searching public Twitter messages and RSS-feeds for signs of cyber-attacks and provides a very good and quick overview on the current situation. It results primarily from pre-configured search terms. The radar was developed by the Cyber Defense Center in collaboration with the Fraunhofer FKIE Institute in order  to detect cyber-attacks early. Additionally, we use it with focus on other security issues, such as protests or bomb disarmings capable of damaging our networks.

What is the role of the Group Situation Center if an emergency or crisis still occurs?

If a situation occurs which necessitates us to act, we set up a taskforce or a crisis team with the emergency and crisis management. These team’s decisions are supported with precise information of the Group Situation Center. Moreover, we forward the decisions made to the executing departments.

What is special about monitoring in times of crisis compared to the one under crisis-free conditions? Is it more difficult than in normal times?

Monitoring in times of crisis is a bit more clear because we know exactly what to search for.

Which strategies does Deutsche Telekom keep at hand in order to overcome crises?

We go for a classical strategy like the implementation of a situation center, calling for a crisis team or the activation of pre-defined processes. Our crisis team coercively stipulates the participation of certain business units such as corporate communications or customer care. In addition to this we have a department for Business Continuity Management (BCM) and other emergency management departments.

How are crises followed up? What has been done in the case of Drosselkom in order to learn from the incident?

The „Drosselkom“ incident was no crisis for Telekom. But certainly it was a situation in which we have used the methods described above in order to cope with the situation. We learn from every situation due to an intense, open and self-critical review. We have recognized that the intense exchange between all stakeholders is particularly important. Knowing the relevant contacts is advantageous in the world of digital communications as well. This means we have optimized our processes, promoted the internal exchange and sharpened the situation reporting.

Which further developments are planned for the future of the Group Situation Center?

We want to improve in order to address serious situations in a better way. We learn from every situation with a „lessons learned“. Strategically, we keep an eye on the development of social networks as well as on the monitoring systems which are available on the market. Since social media is becoming more and more relevant in society, these media are gaining relevance for companies as well. In order to keep up with this development, we also need capable staff according to that.

Anyone who is interested in seeing Robert Schwerdtner live can do this at the Social Media Week in Hamburg on February 24th. Robert will hold a workshop about „Nextlevel Communication and Crisis Management @Telekom“.


*Sorry, but Germans commonly label Social Media Firestorms with the word Shitstorm.