Crisis Communications and Social Media

The rapid evolution of new media often results in the practice of public relations getting ahead of research.  The practice of crisis communication is ahead of research in terms of social media.  If you look at training seminars and webinars for crisis communication, social media is emerging as a “hot” topic.  A basic definition of social media is the use of technology to facilitate interaction and the sharing of information.  There is a need to elaborate and build greater knowledge about crisis communications and new media with an emphasis on social media.  So this section was developed to begin compiling information on the topic.

The current entry does cover research on web sites, Intranet sites, and some discussion of mass notification.  It could be said this is Web 1.0 and not Web 2.0 and that is a fair statement.  Crisis managers must now think about blogs, podcasts, Really Simple Syndication (RSS), and videos.  I will start the conversation by identifying some emerging points about crisis communications and social media.

We should start by noting that social media are a useful way to identify warning signs that a crisis is developing.  As part of crisis scanning, managers should be observing the social media relevant to their industry.  Observing can be as simple as conducting regular searches and analysis of blogs for mentions of your organization, its products, or its services.  This would include important blogs for your industry.  The blogs could provide warning signs of an emerging crisis.  Another warning sign could be online videos.  YouTube is the location of choice for most online videos.  The KFC video of rats in a New York City location was very popular.  Videos were used to spread information about the “defective” Kryptonite bike locks and the flaming laptop batteries as well.  It might also be a bad sign if customers form groups on sites like Facebook to complain about your organization.  Monitoring of social media should extend into the crisis response and post-crisis phases to check how your crisis management efforts are being received.

The other side of crisis communications is sending messages during a crisis.  Blogs can be an effective means for providing updated information about a crisis.  Like dedicated crisis sections of a web site, blogs can be updated quickly.  Blogs have the added feature of interactivity.  Stakeholders can post comments/give feedback and ask questions.  The need to respond to queries increases the time investment for the crisis team, however.  RSS can be used to reach employees or other stakeholders that would like to subscribe to updates.  Podcasts and videos can be released as well.  Jet Blue’s apology video on YouTube is frequently given as an example of an effective use of video in a crisis.  The idea is to use multiple channels to release your crisis information.  Keep in mind the audiences may be small crisis response videos.  When KFC posted a YouTube video responding to the New York City rat situation, very few people watched it.  In fact during the first month, only two people accessed the video from YouTube.  The other viewers all were taken to the video from the KFC web site.

So what next?  I would like people to add to this very crude knowledge base for crisis communications and social media by posting their information here.
What ideas do you have?
What new research have you seen on the topic?
What are some examples of crisis managers using social media?
What are some good web addresses for information on the topic?

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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4 thoughts on “Crisis Communication and Social Media

  1. I feel crisis communication needs to follow the preferences of the population. If your target audience is in a particular communications channel, then it seems critical communications should follow them.

    My research focuses on the use of twitter by electric utilities during outage events.

  2. Speaking of updates -> Have any of you seen great examples of actual social media crisis communication plans or at least communication plans that address social media in procedures or tactics?

  3. Hi Lauren, and Tim,

    From my experience during the floods in Queensland, Australia, and the states capital Brisbane in 2011, the use of Twitter and Facebook was widespread, and very effective. The Police have a Twitter and Facebook page that provided information as it came to hand, also they communicated with residents to tell them to evacuate and more. This together with TV briefings provided an excellent display of crisis communication.

  4. Hi Timothy,
    This article is rather old now. How useful do you think twitter is now as a crisis communications tool?

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