By, Gerard Braud
When it comes to social media and crisis communications, it’s all about analyzing how your particular audience uses social media. But before we talk about them, we should talk about you and your personal social media habits.
There are still companies that have no Facebook page, no Twitter, and no YouTube channel. Some companies have zero social media. Some companies have set up social media pages, but do not use them consistently. Some companies post frequently to one or more social media channels.
It’s time to cut to the point, especially for companies aggressively posting to social media. On a clear sunny day, when there is no crisis at hand, are you a social media hypocrite? Do you — or someone on your communications team — sit in your office each day updating your corporate social media sites expecting your audiences to follow you, when in fact you don’t personally follow any other companies?
As I was teaching my Social Media When “It” Hits the Fan workshop recently to a state-wide medical association, the audience was initially appalled that I asked if they were social media hypocrites. They then realized they were. Each has spent countless hours developing Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube for their hospitals. Some had branched out into Pinterest and Instagram. Yet in reflection, they realized that they spend a lot of time posting information for their corporate social media accounts, with the belief their audiences and customers would read it, when in fact they didn’t follow their bank, doctor, oil company, etc.
The audience quickly realized that they were social media hypocrites. Many realized that they were social media and public relations sheep, setting up social media accounts because some so-called social media expert said that every company needs to be on social media or you will be left behind.
It’s also crucial that we talk about the age and social media habits of your audience to determine if social media is the right fit for your organization on a clear sunny day when there is no crisis, because this will affect whether you can reach them during a crisis.
In my research and experience, there is a large generational divide between those who use it and those who don’t, which we will address in greater detail later. The age and social media habits of your audience will help you decide when and if social media needs to be part of your crisis communication strategy. People in their mid-20’s pioneered social media behavior and made Facebook popular. Now, as some grandparents join Facebook to keep track of their grandkids, younger participants are leaving because Facebook isn’t as cool anymore.
For the most part, it is safe to say that people under 35 are more active than those who are older. So as you decide if social media is right for you, keep this in mind. The best research on social media behavior can be viewed here.
When “it” hits the fan, you have to ask yourself, what does your audience need to know and how do you want them to behave? What is it that you want them to do? Sometimes you need to communicate safety information in the throes of a crisis. Perhaps you need to evacuate a community before a hurricane or issue advisories to your customers and employees before a bad weather event. Many times you may be communicating with your audiences because of an ugly rumor or the exposure of a scandal.
Whatever the crisis, whatever the situation may be, you need to know how to best reach your audience, and make sure you are not a social media hypocrite.
Crisis communications and media training expert Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC is based in New Orleans. Organizations on five continents have relied on him to write their crisis communications plans and to train their spokespeople. He is the author of “Don’t Talk to the Media Until…”
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