Social Media and Crisis Communications – Starting Out Right

In developed countries, statistics indicate that about half the population participates in social networks or online communities. The Internet is also the third most popular channel of communication used by people to gather information on emergencies, even if TV and radio remain the favourites. And to top it all, about two-thirds of people expect that entities concerned by emergencies will check their website and social media presences to respond to external postings and queries as any incident unfolds. How then should organisations manage their existence in social media to best contribute to effective crisis management?

The first thing to remember is that no organisation can choose whether or not it is represented in social media. The mere fact that other people discuss an organisation there means that it already has a social network presence. If this is inevitable, then the organisation must manage its presence accordingly, rather than “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”. The first move is to build that presence into something positive, whether or not any crisis is taking place. This not only helps to attenuate any negativity if a disaster occurs, but can also contribute to positively marketing and influencing customer opinion about an organisation’s products or services.

The best use of social media for crisis communications also depends on the individual channels being used, a choice that may evolve over time. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and different blogs are popular today, with LinkedIn and Google+ bubbling under. Tomorrow’s frontrunners may look different again, and for an individual organisation will be decided by what that organisation’s customers, patients and stakeholders favour. Measuring activity (meaning how much your company or organisation is discussed) on different networks is one way to find out which ones are important to you.