Black Twitter, the Shooting of Michael Brown, and Crisis Communications In the Age of Social Media

michael brown case 2By Gerard Braud

The events in Ferguson, MO warrant the need for community leaders to activate their crisis communications plan, if they have one. But the power of Black Twitter, amid the protests, presents an amazing crisis communications and public relations case study.

Generally, protesters win the public relations battle against any establishment during a protest. Those on the offense present their case more passionately – sometimes with accuracy and often with a heavy dose of one side of the story. Those in government or in business generally hunker down behind lawyers, rules and restrictions, offering far less information to the media and the community. The lack of facts creates the impression that the establishment is hiding the truth.

Then there is the issue of the media and how they cover the story. Are the media fair to both sides?

MichaelBrowncaseA story by Laura Sydell on NPR’s All Things Considered examines the power of social media in a crisis. The hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown began trending on Twitter among blacks after the media showed a picture of shooting victim Michael Brown, which the black community felt misrepresented him. Using Twitter, the black online community pressured the media to select a new photo. According to Sydell’s report, Twitter is such a prolific communications tool in the black community that a huge segment of the Twitter audience is now known as Black Twitter.

Listen to Sydell’s report and study the Twitter hashtag. Consider how your company or government entity would manage their crisis communications in the future when they are faced with a protest that goes viral.