Monday, December 28, 2009

Five Social Media Crisis Communications Tips

I've spent a lot of the year helping companies incorporate Social Media into their existing crisis communications plans. As with other aspects of Social Media, there is a lot of trial and error. The impact of these new tools on crisis communications is evolving and will continue to evolve into 2010. The New Year no doubt will bring new lessons, but heeding the five tips below will help you be better prepared in 2010.

Build Your Presence Before a Crisis
When I speak to groups about Social Media and Crisis Communications, I tell people that you can't set up your Twitter account when the building's on fire. Passenger train operator Eurostar learned this lesson the hard way this week. Eurostar put off claiming its name on Twitter 2009, opting instead for other Social Media initiatives under the Twitter handle "Little_Break".

Great plan until five Eurostar trains got trapped in the tunnel that runs under the English Channel. More than 2,000 passengers were trapped for the better part of a day. Thousands more had their travel disrupted. The company had to rely on a Twitter account set up for a marketing promotion. That slowed the response and allowed anger to build.

You Won't be First, But You Can be Most Accurate
When USAirways 1549 ditched into the Hudson River, pictures taken by mobile phones were going around the Internet before US Airways knew it had a plane down. The Age of Social Media means you most likely won't be first with information. Your advantage is that you have access to more credible information than the average Tweep on the Street. It is only an advantage, however, if you get that information out.

Employees Need Guidance
During the awful shootings at Fort Hood this year, a soldier sent out dozens of Tweets that contained inaccurate information, and even took a picture of a wounded soldier with her cellphone and posted posted it on TwitPic. As worldwide newsmedia started to follow her on Twitter she became a prime source of misinformation coming from the locked-down base. She gained hundreds of followers that afternoon. And then sent a note out to them to "stop following" her. She said her "Tweets are for (her) friends." She had no idea the whole world could see what she was saying. Make sure your organization's Social Media policy lets employees know what's expected of them. Don't have a Social Media policy? Social Media Governance has an archive of more than 100 company's policies.

You Can't Respond if You Aren't Listening
Monitoring what is being said about your company during a crisis is critical to defend and maintain your reputation. There are plenty of monitoring tools that can help you find out in real-time what is being said about your company. Successful crisis communications in the Social Media age requires 24/7 real-time monitoring. A search for "social media monitoring" on Google will give you all the info you need for monitoring tools, many of which are free.

Don't Forget the Basics
All of the basic crisis communications fundamentals still apply. You have to understand who your audience is; you need to respond rapidly with clear, concise messages demonstrating compassion and competence. Social media is an additional tool for you to use to connect with the people important to you during a crisis, it doesn't change the fundamentals required for success.

What would you add to the list?
These five tips aren't all inclusive, nor will doing all of them guarantee success in a crisis. There are a lot of variables that make for a successful response. What would you add to the list? What's worked for you? What didn't?

The more we all learn from each other, the fewer painful lessons we will have to learn on our own.

Bill Salvin


  1. Right again Bill, Excellent stuff
    Tony Jaques

  2. Thanks, Tony. I appreciate you taking time to read the post and leaving a comment. Happy New Year.

  3. great. thank you also for links.

  4. Utlimately, a primary goal of a modern, social media-centric crisis response program should be to circumvent the negative, scapegoating media to the greatest extent possible by using social media as your first line of communication. To that end, consider BlogTV or similar outlets for direct-to-the-public, interactive "non-press conferences." Promote them via Twitter and Facebook and archive them on YouTube.

  5. Laer-Thanks for reading. I appreciate you comment. One of the best things social media can do for companies in crisis is connect them directly to key stakeholders without that media filter. Not sure about the "non-press conference" as that can pose some transparency issues. But posting video statements and using all available means on social media is definitely the way to go. Thanks again for reading.

  6. Haven't done it ourselves, so perhaps someone more knowledgeable can weigh in with thoughts on dark websites as a social media strategy (or is a website even considered social media?)

  7. There are a lot of variables that make for a successful response.

    Media Monitoring