What is Resilience Engineering?

Resilience engineering looks at organizations as a system. It is a proactive approach that enhances the existing capacities and qualities of a system, whether that is a building, a machine or an organization.

On all levels of production and operation, there are social and economic pressures regardless of the industry. Moreover, within a rapidly shifting landscape, there are more risks associated with maintaining a digital presence. Our activity is constantly being monitored and archived online. The subsequent digital footprint is perceived as an increased potential for reputational damage.

Despite this, there are also more opportunities to connect and make a difference. I argue that this function of the digital sphere - in particular, social media, is an opportunity for increased accountability, learning and resilience.

Why Resilience Engineering?

Throughout my time in the Professional Communication Program, I have taken an interest in risk and crisis communication. The literature in this area focuses on managing risk and fostering resilience in the aftermath of a crisis. It also revolves around the importance of stakeholders and how their emotions and behavior can shape a crisis.

There is a strong focus on how organizations understand, anticipate and respond to stakeholder needs. Despite emphasizing proactive communication, there are few guidelines on how to do so through social media. This gap inspired me to delve deeper into resilience engineering and social media.

Instead of focusing on managing and communicating during a crisis and its aftermath, I wanted to analyze the structures that an organization develops prior to this.

Reputation is intimately linked to resilience, and I wanted to understand how organizations shaped theirs through communication.


My research was inspired by Woods' (2015) four concepts of resilience. In particular, I focused on robustness and network architectures. This meant looking at how organizations use social media platforms to “create, manage and sustain resilience” (Woods, 2015, p. 5). As a result, I took an in-depth look at ways different industries employed strategic discourse, organizational culture, and values, through social media.

I went on to conduct a qualitative content analysis of the social media channels of the top five companies deemed most reputable globally in 2019 by RepTrak, formerly known as the Reputation Institute (Valet, 2019). Those companies are Rolex, Lego, The Walt Disney Company, Adidas and Microsoft.


Throughout my research, I came to the conclusion that resilience engineering is not a singular action but a participatory process. This can be understood as an ecosystem, where living and nonliving components interact with and influence one another. In a communications context those are:

  • Organizations
  • Stakeholders
  • Social Capital
  • Corporate Social Resposibility
  • Platforms and channels


The starting point for building and sustaining an ecosystem of resilience engineering is the environment. In the business world, this can be understood as organizational culture. This encompasses a shared set of beliefs, values, and mission. More importantly, an organization must determine how these are embodied internally and externally. Ultimately, the top five did this by celebrating their mission and their people across all platforms.

Moreover, they view business as a moral practice and it permeates their culture. Across all five organizations, their missions were rooted in this idea. There was a strong emphasis on striving to be the best at what they do and leading through continuous improvement driven by impossibly high standards.

These organizations positioned themselves as leaders in the industry, and globally, by taking pride in their legacy and heritage. They communicated this and established credibility by using language such as mastery and expertise. The safety and reliability of products were also emphasized.

Additionally, their products and/or services were described as iconic, and symbolic to a greater good/higher purpose.

  • The Rolex crown is symbol for “Perpetual Spirit”, which “is a way of thinking about our place in the world and an aspiration to contribute”.
  • Playing with the iconic Lego brick, “offers the chance of constant discovery – the possibility of creating something new every time”.
  • The Walt Disney Company's, “iconic brands, creative minds and innovative technologies” are reflected in their “unparalleled” storytelling and entertainment.
  • Adidas's iconic Superstar shoe “stands for all who aren’t afraid to stand up for something”.
  • Microsoft’s software is “woven throughout daily life” and symbolizes their mission to help “businesses and consumers to reach their full potential, however they define it”.

In addition to viewing business as a moral practice, these organizations frame it as a purposeful journey. Within the ecosystem, this accounts for the alignment between an organization’s mission and culture and their actions and interactions. According to Palazzo and Scherer (2008), business entities are increasingly perceived as citizens of society and have considerable influence on human values.


Although a stakeholder has traditionally been someone who monetarily invests in a company, in the ecosystem of resilience engineering all of society has a stake. That is investors, consumers, communities and everyone in between. In today's climate, the ethics and behaviour of a business impact everyone to some degree.

The top five understand this responsibility, and communicate their sense of citizenship. Through organizational promises, commitment, and responsibility, common themes emerged surrounding ‘playing their part’ to create positive by:

  • Inspiring and empowering everyone.
  • Supporting human potential, creativity, and innovation.
  • Protecting human well-being and advancing knowledge.
  • Embracing and leading change on a global scale.

There was also a significant focus on investing in future generations. With this in mind, children and youth are actually crucial stakeholders whether they are current or prospective consumers.

Social Capital

The relationship between an organization and stakeholders are bound by social capital. Social capital revolves around three core concepts (Poteyeva, 2018):

  1. “interconnected networks of relationships between individuals and groups”.
  2. “resources or benefits that are both gained and transferred by virtue of social ties and social participation”.
  3. “resources or benefits that are both gained and transferred by virtue of social ties and social participation”.

As a result, this is a key motivator for organizations to ‘do good’, lead above the line and operate ethically. The accumulation of social capital is directly linked to an organization’s reputation and resilience. In the digital sphere, social capital is tied to website traffic, time spent on pages, pages viewed per session, engagement, likes, shares, and comments. Moreover, the content and resources shared across platforms influence stakeholder trust, credibility, and perceived benefit.

Corporate Social Responsibility

The top five have accumulated social capital by effectively communicating their corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies. They built trust and demonstrated transparency by making their annual Corporate Social Responsibility Reports available on their sites, and championing them on their social media.

Their approaches do not simply consist of campaigns to foster goodwill. It is a core part of their citizenship and stakeholder engagement. Furthermore, it is rooted in their legacy and organizational culture. As the Walt Disney Company states, corporate social responsibility is a, “long-term investment that serves to strengthen our operations and competitiveness in the marketplace, enhance risk management, attract and engage talented employees, and maintain our reputation.”

Across all organizations, some key CSR areas were:

  • Sustainability and environmental protection
  • Inclusivity and diversity
  • Supply chain management
  • Human rights
  • Innovation, creativity, and discovery

Perhaps more importantly, each organization tailored its strategy to its audience and primary consumer demographics:

  • Rolex’s Mentorship and Protege Arts Initiative pairs “gifted young artists with “artistic masters for a period of creative collaboration”.
  • Lego’s “education initiatives aim is to reach millions of children with learning through play”.
  • The Walt Disney Company has initiatives that support children’s hospitals, wish-granting, and “protecting the magic of nature” through wildlife conservation.
  • In 2019 Adidas hosted a “Run for the Ocean” global running event.
  • Microsoft’s “Hack for Good is a community of Microsoft employees with a passion for applying technical and business skills to some of the world’s most pressing societal problems”.

Channels & Platforms

The most prominent platform that the top five used to share their CSR initiatives were their own websites. This is understandable seeing as it provides them with the most control over their content. Furthermore, all of these companies had their own sites specifically dedicated to their philanthropic and CSR work.

The social media platforms used consistently within and across organizations to support resilience engineering were Twitter, Youtube and Linkedin. Although Rolex, Adidas and Microsoft did have some content devoted to their people and community on Instagram, the majority of posts were dedicated to the visual and aesthetic aspects of their products.

Twitter, LinkedIn and Youtube were used to share videos, photos and hashtags campaigns for storytelling. More importantly, these initiatives were platforms themselves for authentic stories and voices instead of being treated as promotional campaigns. There is a pervasive ‘feel good’ factor to these platforms.

Underneath that feeling, is a deep understanding of what resonates with their consumers. The tone, verbiage, and imagery of their stories has been created for those that support these companies. The messages that Rolex, Lego, The Walt Disney Company, Adidas and Microsoft share directly address those that believe in their mission. Through this they have and continue to build trust, credibility and genuine connection, ultimately sustaining their ecosystem of resilience.

About Lucy

Lucy has been an enthusiastic reader, writer, and conversationalist from a young age. She is finishing her fourth year in Professional Communication at Ryerson University.

Currently, she works part-time as an executive assistant to the CEO of an award-winning inbound answering service company, managing their social media and writing/editing communication pieces. In her free time, she edits and designs resumés for fun, spends time outdoors or at the cottage, and reads just about everything and anything.

Lucy is driven professionally and personally by her continuous love of learning and helping others.


Palazzo, Guido & Scherer, Andreas. (2008). Corporate Social Responsibility, Democracy, and the Politicization of the Corporation. Academy of Management Review. 33. 10.5465/AMR.2008.32465775.

Poteyeva, M. (2018, December 17). Social capital. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/social-capital

Valet, V. (2019, September 17). The World’s Most Reputable Companies For Corporate Responsibility 2019. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/vickyvalet/2019/09/17/the-worlds-most-reputable-companies-for-corporate-responsibility-2019/#15dc0c86679b

Woods, D. D. (2015). Four concepts for resilience and the implications for the future of resilience engineering. Reliability Engineering and System Safety, 141, 5-9. doi:10.1016/j.ress.2015.03.018


Adidas (1991) [Adidas Logo] Retrieved from https://www.expandasign.co.za/is-it-time-for-your-logo-to-evolve/adidas-logo-1991/

Microsoft (n.d ) [Microsoft Logo] Retrieved from https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/legal/intellectualproperty/trademarks/usage/logo.aspx

Lego (1973) [Lego Logo] Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lego

Rolex (1925) [Rolex logo] Retrieved from https://millenarywatches.com/rolex-logo-history/

The Walt Disney Company (n.d) [The Walt Disney Company Logo] Retrieved from https://disneyparks.disney.go.com/blog/2019/09/the-walt-disney-company-to-donate-more-than-1-million-to-relief-and-recovery-efforts-in-the-bahamas/

Created By
Lucy Mills