Friday, February 13, 2009

Social Media & Crisis Communications Part II - The Crash of Continental 3407

The Internet was buzzing with the impact Social Media played during the splash landing of US Air 1549 in the Hudson River in January. The first image of the plane floating in the Hudson was posted on Twitter by a guy riding a ferry that was diverted to rescue passengers. Flight 1549 was Twitter at its best. The “tweets” (short 140 character updates on Twitter) gave lots of information about what people were seeing, hearing and doing. Twitter was how I found out all the passengers were safe.

The crash of Continental Express 3407 February 12 was a different story… and an illuminating one. There were still tweets a-plenty, but much more incorrect information than with the US Air incident. The incorrect flight numbers were most bothersome to me. In the span of a few minutes, Twitter jockeys posted that it was Continental 1304, Colgan 3268 and finally, Continental 3407.

People search for the “first tweet” as though they are the CDC trying to find the first patient of an Ebola epidemic. In this case, what is being credited as the first tweet about the crash came from Keith Burtis of Buffalo. Here’s what he wrote:

Holy S***! A small plane crashed into homes a couple miles from my house! Jet fuel is spilling into the streets!!!!

Sort of accurate and appropriate given that he lives a few miles from the crash site.

But this is participatory journalism and everyone wanted to get in on the action. To me, this was Twitter is its worst. Well-meaning people picking up slivers of wrong information and passing it on. Like this tweet:

Joseph_KHC: HOLY S***!!! PLANE CRASH in NYC #planecrash

Joseph lives in Toronto.

Or this one from AGORACOM:

#planecrash plane nosedived from 16,000 ft right into a home, killed 1 inside - but 2 others survived. Great but how do u survive that?

Agoracom is listed as a Canadian-based “community for small-cap investors & companies. 1.2M Investors, 101M pages/ year. Stock market, investing, China, gold, investor relations.”

The plane did not nosedive from 16,000 feet. And you wonder why your investments are in the tank?

How do I know that the plane didn’t nose dive from 16,000 feet? Easy. The first reports were that an airplane crashed about five miles from the Buffalo airport on approach for landing. At that distance it was probably at about 3,000 feet.

There were some helpful tweets. ladu is from Europe, nowhere close to the crash, but he did a good job of providing helpful tweets. He posted links to various bits of information about the crash from different Web outlets. If you went to the links, you could start to piece together what had happened.

So what does all this mean if you are a company trying to figure out how to use Social Media during a crisis?

Post information on Social Web sites: I couldn’t find a listing for Continental, Colgan Air or Pinnacle Airlines on Twitter, so those companies are dependent on others to forward company news to that site. As you can see from the tweets above, there is a high likelihood of bad information being pumped into the system.

Information will come out rapidly. If the story is about you, it is better with you in it.

Bill Salvin

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