Social Media for Crisis Communications: Crisis Communications and Social Media When You are a Little Part of a Big Story

By,  Gerard Braud

Sometimes your company, government agency or non-profit organization experiences a Social Media Gerard Braudcrisis that is isolated just to your organization. Sometimes, your organization is part of a much bigger crisis, and while you have serious crisis issues to communicate, you are not the biggest part of the story.

Social media is a terrific way to communicate to your core audiences when you are a small part of a much bigger story. This is especially true in events such as a widespread power outage, a pandemic, or a natural disaster.

When Super Storm Sandy hit New Jersey and New York in late October 2012, there was both the big crisis of the storm, as well as all of the smaller crises of each community, each government agency, each non-profit organization and every company in the region.

Based on article seven about building social media relationships before a crisis, article eight about the media listening to social media during a crisis and article nine about using technology to broadcast live during a crisis, you have the pieces you need to understand how you can get both media attention and the attention of your core audience during a crisis.

Out of all of the times to use social media during a crisis, this tops the list.

First you begin by making sure your organization has created your basic social media channels, including the big three, YouTube, Facebook & Twitter.  Many of you reading this will admit that your organizations do not currently have these channels because you don’t know if they would benefit your organization and you haven’t decided how you might monetize social media.

Well, if you want to use them in a crisis, you need to establish them on a clear sunny day.

Admittedly, you may not have a lot to say on a normal day and you may not get a lot of followers on a normal day. But during a crisis, especially a natural disaster, people can easily access the big three social media channels through their smart phones.

Hurricane Isaac Gerard Braud CNNNext, make sure you add your CNN i-Report channel. If your local media requires you to pre-register to post photos and videos to their sites, pre-register there as well.

Again, especially prior to a predictable weather crisis, you have the ability to more aggressively begin managing the expectations of your core audience. You can use your conventional communications channels to let them know that during the event, you will be doing frequent updates through YouTubeFacebook and Twitter. People who may never use these sites to connect with you on clear sunny day, will use them during the crisis.

You will also get the power of people sharing key links.

If, during the crisis, the media are spread thin and unable to give coverage to your situation, you can circumvent the media and take your message directly to the people who need to hear it the most.

Here is an example: Imagine you are a small rural town on the Jersey Shore during Super Storm Sandy. While the media are showing images of downtown New York or the Atlantic City Boardwalk, you could have a team of people out with smart phones or iPads posting pictures of damaged houses. The team could post the address of the house, so an evacuated homeowner can quickly learn the status of not only their town, but their specific home.

Imagine riding down the street and shooting a short video of one city block, as I’ve done in this video from Rockaway, New York, in an area damaged by Sandy. If evacuations were still underway, residents of this street could all watch this video on YouTube to get a preliminary assessment of their home and the challenge they face ahead.

In my own personal situation following Hurricane Katrina, it was nearly impossible to get information about my small town of Mandeville, LA, because all of the news coverage was about the flooding in New Orleans. It was days before I was able to reach someone who was able to drive down my street and assess my home. They were able to tell me that I had 25 fallen trees, but that none had fallen directly on my house. They were able to tell me that the overhead electrical wires to my home were down and that my meter pan had been ripped off of the side of my house. With that knowledge, I knew to buy all of the necessary parts I needed to repair my electrical system while I was still in my safe evacuation zone, since no stores were open and those electrical parts would not be available once I returned to Mandeville.

If that scenario happened today and my town had channels on YouTube,  Facebook and Twitter, people could be posting photos and videos on a block by block basis. That would be effective crisis communications. Keep in mind, this required a dedicated team of people to manage the crisis communications. This is not necessarily something that will be done by the police or other emergency responders, although it could be done by them with planning on a clear, sunny day.

One other benefit of social media is that it is fast to use, so you may be able to do more frequent, faster updates than you could on your own corporate website.

winter storm cleonI must add, social media is also a great tool for managing the expectations of your audience. For example, an electric company can be communicating how long power will be out and how customers should deal with their loss of creature comforts. Con Edison Power used their social media channels effectively following Super Storm Sandy.

A huge problem, however, with electric companies, is that they want to brag about how many homes have been reconnected after a storm. The backlash comes when the few without power take to social media to bash the electric company for not getting power to their home.

On your to-do list today is to set up your social media channels, if you don’t already have them established. If you have them established, make sure your public relations team has access to them. Often, social media sites are run by the marketing team, which may have a much different goal than the PR team… and the marketing team often maintains tight control over the login and passwords.

Tomorrow, we’ll discuss how to achieve great search engine optimization in a crisis by using social media.





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