social media in crisis best practices

Given social media’s recent history with breaking news events and providing snippets of information as full news stories develop, social media represents a key opportunity to communicate during crisis events.

Heck, many people turn to social media for first-hand experiences of people on the scene.

The structure of social media also benefits in times of crisis as it creates a better opportunity for information to spread, through reposting of content on blogs or re-tweeting information.

There are best practices gleaned from industry performance and academic research on this topic – none of these are new ideas but they’re put all right here for ease of review:

  • Use existing accounts with established readership, avoid the temptation to create a new special account. New accounts will segment your brand. If you use existing accounts then when the crisis posting subsides and you return to regular content you may have readers stay on.
  • Post information in a consistent and timely manner. Make a decision to either post information as it is confirmed, when a release is sent out or at a special time of day.
  • Answer questions as much as possible. Avoid one-way communication, which is what press releases are for. Be prepared to have people ask questions and treat those like media queries and respond back as quickly as possible through the most appropriate means of communication.
  • Monitor conversations regularly and correct inaccuracies. This is the best way to stop rumors before they run rampant. Use search engines and other monitoring tools to track discussion on the topic.
  • Encourage on-scene and first-responder personnel to engage via social media. You can do this by having them either use their personal accounts or feeding you information to post on the official company social sites. Regardless, the company site should promote this content when appropriate.
  • Promote the social media content on outgoing materials like press releases, e-mail signatures, links on the home page and even in conversations with reporters. The social media content isn’t helpful if it isn’t discoverable or people don’t know about it.
  • Use the best tool for the job. For example, breaking news can be broken on Twitter, then a press release or multimedia posted on the company Web site which can be social bookmarked (Digg, Reddit), shared on Facebook, discussed on the company blog and sent to previously engaged bloggers.
  • Analyze success of social media after the crisis by looking at click throughs, conversation, replies and reactions to postings, etc.

I actually did a research study a few years ago about using social media in crisis. It came down to the fact that the more an organization communicated via social media during crisis, the less its publics thought that the situation was a crisis.

What are your best practices for using social media in a crisis?

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