Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Three Ways to Get Social Media into Your Crisis Comms Plan

Social Media is here to stay and that means it needs to be part of your crisis communications plans. Lately, I've been spending a lot of time working with clients to help them do just that. I thought I would share three Social Media techniques/ideas that I think will become standard issue during a crisis.

Pre-approved Tweets
Many companies use pre-approved initial releases in crisis communications plan. This works because it allows for quick action that requires very little thinking. Applying the concept to Social Media is a good idea. Not only can it cut response time, but it lets your bosses know the space in which you will operate during a crisis. Here's a version of a pre-approved Tweet:

We know that Twitter has become the first stop for people to get information on breaking news. So that's where your company needs to be in a crisis. A Tweet like this will get you into the information flow early. To stay in the information flow, you should send this Tweet out multiple times. How fast should you do this? Your goal for a first Tweet should be within five minutes of the incident (or notification of the incident). You should send it out every five minutes until you get more information.

Put Your Twitter Feed on Your Home Page
I've seen this on a lot of blogger's sites (mine included), but I've not seen a lot of mainline companies put it to use. In many cases you have to look pretty hard to find a company's Twitter feed. If people have to look hard for information on your site, they'll go somewhere else. We know that journalists monitor social media. A study by George Washington University and the media relations software company Cision shows that 96% of journalists will go to your company's Website when they write a story about you. By having your Twitter feed front and center not only gets you on the reporter's Social Media radar, but gives them a reason to come back to your Website for reliable information.

Another option would be to put a crawl on the top of your Website (much like the cable news sites and many local news stations do). This, again, gets you into the information flow early; it can be automated and is easier to implement than a full dark site. I know there are some companies that will resist the idea of making the crisis front and center on their Website, but in a crisis people are coming because it is front and center. People perceive lack of information as a lack of caring.

Get the Boss on Video, Post it on YouTube
It used to be that you wanted the initial release of the event on the streets in an hour and that included a quote from the CEO or appropriate executive. Now people want to see the CEO or appropriate executive engaged in the crisis. One guideline I saw, but lost the link but it said you need to get the boss on video posted to the Web within three hours of the incident. As with most things in a crisis, the timing will vary. Sooner is better. Toyota is so pathetically late to its sudden acceleration crisis the video is more about damage control than taking charge.

To do the "boss video" well in a crisis, you have to write it into your crisis plan and practice it during a crisis exercise. That means really putting the boss on video and showing him how it looks. That will allow you to work out the logistics. Do you need a crew on-call? Or do you need a Flip Camera? It's your choice, but choose before the crisis hits.

Bottom Line
Social Media is not a fad and it's not just for marketing. Social Media is a collection of new communications tools and platforms that are already in wide use. More than a billion people worldwide use Social Media regularly.

You can have the best crisis comms plan in the world, but if it lacks a Social Media component the world will get its information about your crisis from someone else.

Bill Salvin


  1. Patrice-Nice to see your name. I hope all is well. Thanks for reading.

  2. I would add to the point on Pre-Approved Tweets:

    Make sure that your Twitter account follows -- and is followed by -- people whom you will want to reach out to when crisis hits. Key reporters, opinion-makers, civic leaders, industry leaders. People who will understand your story, and can do something with the information. Be proactive about gathering these key folks on to your account.

  3. Bill --

    I agree with your general points, but I'd take caution to apply these tactics in every crisis situation. It depends on many factors: the type of organization, the type of crisis, the organization's commitment to communicate through social media in the future, etc.

    I've written an article on this that will appear in PRSA Strategist very soon. It's not a contrarian piece...but I do believe we crisis experts have to be careful to apply a broad brush to every situation. If you don't subscribe to The Strategist, I'm hoping to link the article to my Web site perhaps you can find it there soon.

    Keep up the good work here, Bill -- perhaps we can conduct a little cross-blog interview sometime soon!


  4. Chris-I agree that you need to have your social media tools in place and in use long before a crisis strikes. Otherwise, no one will know where to find you when you need them too. Thanks for reading.

  5. JD-Nice insight. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. I know we've both been through lots of crises in our careers and no one of them has been the same. General points always deserve customization for the specific company and the people must be able to adapt to the facts on the ground, not the comm theory behind the idea.

    Drop me a note when your article posts. I would love to do an interview with you and link to it.

    Thanks again for reading.

  6. Bill,

    The Strategist article (and a quick summary) are both available: