Ashley Madison Hack - Crisis Communication Case Study | Viral In Nature Social Media Agency

Ashley Madison Hack - Crisis Communication Case Study

impactteam ashleymadisonIf you haven't heard already, the Ashley Madison Database has been hacked and now all it's members names, emails, addresses, sexual preferences, photos, private messages and credit card info are now on display for the world to see.  

Here's the Ashley Madison backstory:

In mid-July, Krebs first reported that Ashley Madison had been hacked by Team Impact.  Team Impact, an anonymous group of computer hackers, demanded that Ashley Madison permanently delete their website. 

“Avid Life Media has been instructed to take Ashley Madison and Established Men offline permanently in all forms, or we will release all customer records, including profiles with all the customers’ secret sexual fantasies and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails. The other websites may stay online.”

They were also slowly releasing bits of data that confirmed they weren't bluffing.  And as of August 19, 2015 they have now posted a message saying time's up and have released almost 10 gb of data of the 37 million users on Ashley Madison.  The media has been in a full frenzy reporting the story and social media has been buzzing.

Here's how Ashley Madison handled the online crisis:

Since the hack, Ashley Madison has had little information coming from them.  They have refused interviews, sent take down notices to Twitter.  

On July 20, 2015 they released a statement on their Facebook page



And then again on August 18, 2015




Post Mortem Analysis

Well this situation is still ongoing and I suspect the final story will also include many high profile Celebrities and Politicians.  But Ashley Madison has missed the most critical opportunities for online crisis communication.  They have for the most part taken the "Head in the sand" Ostrich approach.  The conversation is going on all around them and if there's one thing you've heard me say over and over again it's that "The conversation is going to happen with or without you so it's better that you're a part of it." 

Cease and Desist letters no longer work in this digital age if you're trying to stomp out a story, it has the opposite effect of pouring gasoline in the fire.

There was one glimmer of hope they did do, however, and that was releasing the statement that led back to a blog on their website with the comments enabled.  This gave people an outlet to vent their frustration in a place Ashley Madison had control of instead of their personal social media profiles.  This now gives people an outlet to vent their frustration rather than on their personal social media profiles.  It also allows the business to take control of the story and fix the facts and rumours that may be circulating.  Ashley Madison should have done much more to promote and direct the conversation to these blogs.

In one of the blogs they write "Contrary to current media reports, and based on accusations posted online by a cyber criminal, the “paid-delete” option offered by does in fact remove all information related to a member’s profile and communications activity. The process involves a hard-delete of a requesting user’s profile, including the removal of posted pictures and all messages sent to other system users’ email boxes. This option was developed due to specific member requests for just such a service, and designed based on their feedback."  We now know this to be untrue.  During a crisis you must be truthful if you're going to gain any credibility back.

They should have also not only taken more interview requests, but seeked them out.

Conclusion, they should have been a part of the conversation.  Now it remains to be seen if they will continue to exist.

On a more personal note, you could say these victims reaped what they sowed, but there will also be lots of innocent victims here.  Those hackers may think they are wearing the white hat but they are indirectly responsible for broken marriages which means there will be kids growing up with two sets of parents, I also see an increase in domestic violence and even suicides.  I'm not condoning cheating spouses, but recognizing there will be innocent victims.