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Home » Infographic, social media screw-up, Training

Crisis Communications: why you should use social media when disaster strikes

Submitted by on April 13, 2012 – 11:14 am3 Comments

I’ve been speaking to a lot of communications professionals lately about how to update their crisis communications strategy for the Twitter age. It’s true that social media has completely changed the game for crisis comms pros as now the crowd informs the crowd about how a disaster, natural or corporate-made, is likely to impact their community. But smart companies can use this technology as well to improve their communications strategy with the public. Here’s another reason why.

Firstly, it makes sense to pre-plan your social media crisis comms strategy in advance. A plan of attack will be of a huge help as you try to pull in your organization’s social media monitoring firepower to help defuse a smoldering crisis. (Note: I’ll be talking more about how to get social in a crisis at a Social Media Influence 2012.)

Secondly, it’s imperative you bring that advanced training back to your team. Implement rules for how they should respond (or not!) to a possible crisis as it first appears online. Here are two handy guides we put together with Neil Chapman, who headed up crisis comms for BP during the Deepwater Horizon spill:

Now that the crisis has hit, which channels will you use to keep the public informed, and how will you use these new powerful social tools at your disposal? For example, do you have an emergency hashtag strategy? Why is this important? Smart disaster response agencies all around the world have used Twitter to great effect to inform the public about developments surrounding natural disasters before, during and after they happen. Here’s a few ideas pulled from one of my crisis comms presentation slides:

The American Red Cross has been perhaps one of the most sophisticated agencies in the world deploying social media and mobile technologies in the time of a crisis. Here’s what they learned from the way the public uses these new technologies to communicate among themselves when their lives are turned upside down. Americans (and I believe this could be extended to people across the developed world) are turning to social media to quickly tell their contacts how they are surviving a disaster, their recent survey found:

  • Followed by television and local radio, the internet is the third most popular way for people to gather emergency information with 18 percent of both the general and the online population specifically using Facebook for that purpose
  • Nearly a fourth (24 percent) of the general population and a third (31 percent) of the online population would use social media to let loved ones know they are safe;
  • Four of five (80 percent) of the general and 69 percent of the online populations surveyed believe that national emergency response organizations should regularly monitor social media sites in order to respond promptly.
  • For those who would post a request for help through social media, 39 percent of those polled online and 35 of those polled via telephone said they would expect help to arrive in less than one hour.

The findings are handily summarized in this infographic, courtesy of MSNBC’s technology blog:

What is so fascinating to me is that the public, in terms of its sensibilities, preferences and expectations for using social media at a time of distress and crisis, has much more faith in these technologies than companies, many of which prefer to battle a blaze using old technologies and old-school crisis comms methods.


Editor’s Note: Learn from the digital pioneers, brands like Coca-Cola, Carnival Cruises, Whole Foods, Vodafone and scores of others. Their social media blunders – in the areas of crap customer service, plain dumb marketing or simply being caught short in a crisis – provide valuable lessons from which to shape future corporate comms policy. It all can be found in our new e-book, #FAIL: The 50 Greatest Social Media Screw-Ups and How to Avoid Being the Next One. Buy the book today on Amazon UK, Amazon or on Lulu where you can find it in paperback and epub.




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