The digital evolution that has impacted general public relations practice is just as significant for specialist crisis and risk communications work (Coombs 2017), but to some extent it remains an underutilised resource (Lin et al 2016). Crucially, the internet has empowered stakeholders with the ability to force organisations into transparency. Engaged netizens are taking the opportunity to reveal previously private corporate practices, and are demanding greater organisational integrity in relation to ethics and social responsibility (Taekke 2017). The advent of new digital media also means that crises can now emerge from non-organisational sources, as anyone with a smart phone can share information of emerging events as they unfold. Expectations of professional organisational communications are high in this new environment and organisations are expected to reply and respond to emerging crises very quickly (Coombs 2017). This is different to pre-internet times when unhappy stakeholders would typically challenge an organisation in private, providing both time and privacy for issues to be resolved. Nowadays these challenges often happen in public via social media, and organisations are scrutinised for the timeliness and manner of their responses (Coombs 2017). In 2008, Canadian Country singer Dave Carroll’s song ‘United Breaks Guitars’ became a YouTube sensation. The song was written in frustration after his $3,500 guitar was broken during a flight to Chicago O’Hare airport. The carrier, United Airlines, reacted indifferently, only offering compensation after the song achieved 150,000 views in one day. To date the music video has been viewed 18.7m times, sparking manifold and negative mass media publicity. Such case studies reveal that public relations practitioners must concern themselves not only with emergency communications relating to crisis situations, but also with the ensuing communications environment in which the organisation may need to defend itself rhetorically (Taekke 2017).