Once people learn that a crisis situation is unfolding, the emergency management work has just begun. In the past, people had to rely upon general emergency plans or intuition to respond to a crisis because newspapers and telephone calls couldn’t provide instant updates. Now that we have Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media, however, employees and nearby citizens can receive real-time updates about what’s going on and what they should do during every stage of a crisis.
That presents a unique challenge and opportunity for organizations to properly manage crises while they are happening by providing helpful, timely and comprehensible information via social media. When using social media during a crisis, keep the following factors in mind:
Using Social Media to Manage a Critical Event
- Tell it like it is. First and foremost, make all messaging honest and transparent throughout the critical event. In the words of Dr. Jim Humphries, President and News Director of the Veterinary News Network: “Tell it all; tell it fast; tell the truth.” You want to make sure you appear (and actually are) sincere to stakeholders, the media, and anyone else who is affected. Crises can sometimes create opportunities for false narratives. People are going to find out the truth eventually, so you should tell it first and in the proper way.
- Use the proper tone. How the messages are phrased is just as important as what the messages say. Social media communication tends to be less formal than more traditional communication channels like press releases and radio announcements. “However, in the wake of a crisis, it’s easy for informality to be mistaken as insensitivity,” reports a white paper by Tech Affect. Ensure your approach to social media messaging reflects the levels sensitivity, importance, and concern associated with the critical event. Remember that people outside your usual sphere of influence may come in contact with the information.
- Recognize that social media is a two-way street. Gone are the days when the public received information and couldn’t respond to it except maybe over coffee with a neighbor. Now people can react, like, comment, share, tweet, and repost to their numerous followers on social media. Before sending a message via social media, think of all the ways viewers might respond. The key thing to remember is that people will respond. That’s why during a crisis, you must monitor company social media sites for questions and comments and ensure you respond in a timely and appropriate manner. Doing so can help rein in the effects of the crisis and maintain trust with stakeholders. Also, people not yet involved with your organization will come across the exchanges and be either impressed—or unimpressed—with how well you respond to people’s concerns.
- Write everything down. Critical events present vigorous challenges for public relations officers and emergency managers, and communicating with employees, the media, and the public may seem like stressful as it is. However, it’s educational and beneficial to “maintain a crisis communication inventory of what was said, by whom and at what time,” Ricky Telg, agricultural education and communication professor at the University of Florida, writes. This exercise will not only help you keep track of which stakeholders still need to hear which message but also afford you the opportunity to study the records later to be better prepared for the next crisis the organization faces.
Organizations and institutions are now utilizing social media platforms not only to herald and manage crisis incidents but also to assuage whatever destruction and problems may accrue after the crisis. CentraTalk’s next post will discuss social media use after a crisis.