Crisis Communications and the Volatile Customer on Social Media

We don’t often associate customer service with crisis communications. However, in the age of social media, a single unhappy customer can quickly damage a brand’s revenue and reputation.

Over the years in this blog, we have reviewed countless case studies of how customers on social media have leveled serious allegations against companies. Cancel culture is the latest variation of what we’ve long called “The Volatile Customer.”

Social media gives unhappy customers a platform to becoming more volatile in their criticism of your brand. Volatile doesn’t need to imply physical harm, because words and complaints and truths going viral can fan the flames of volatility. A great brand treats an upset customer with care before they reach the point of lashing out on social media. Good customer service turns your volatile customer into a brand ambassador. You want brand ambassadors.

A single, angry “volatile” Tweet or post on Facebook can go viral, creating the opportunity for more and more people see the post and chime in. They relate to the post. They share their own, bad, customer service experience with the brand. Soon, the conversation explodes. The criticism can’t be silenced.

In the world of crisis communications, some people will push this off as issues management. Others say it falls into customer service. Some think the social media team should handle this.

We suggest you treat every dissatisfied customer as a potentially volatile customer who can convert an unhappy customer experience into a monumental crisis. Your organization needs to have a team ready to handle this sort of situation. A proper crisis communications plan can be your guide in managing the expectations of your audience.

We’re putting this topic front and center in the coming years, because a volatile customer can do unlimited damage to revenue, reputation and brand. That’s why we’ve launched our newest keynote, “The Volatile Customer.”

If your team generally focuses on sales and customer service, they need to be aware that Cancel Culture is just one bad customer experience away.

To schedule a complimentary, confidential call with me to discuss your organization’s vulnerabilities to volatile customers on social media visit

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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Is Social Media a Good Tool for Crisis Communications?

By Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC 

When a crisis hits, should you be engaging on social media with your clients, customers, and stakeholders? Is it better to comment, provide updates, and feedback on social media or to stay silent? Is it the BEST crisis communications tool or just part of your communications toolbox?

As a crisis communications expert, I’m taking the pulse of two public relations professionals in the rural electric cooperative industry, to hear their experience with social media and how companies who have decided to use it, and who have decided not to use it have faired in the unique and individual crises they have faced.

To enjoy a full replay of this Master Class sponsored by visit this link.

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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5 Steps to Effective Crisis Communications: Master Class #1

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Avoid Social Media Scrutiny, Save Your Brand

By Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC 

Think of social media as a compass. A compass has 360 degrees or points on it. If you face one direction, the opposite direction is 180 degrees from you.

In social media, any time you take a position on a topic, you can be assured that someone else has an opinion 180 degrees away from you – or the exact opposite opinion. And for that much, if we keep with the compass analogy, if you were to put 360 social media participants in a virtual space, you can bet that no two feel exactly the same. Each has a different opinion, ranging from just one or two degrees off to being 180 degrees away – or feeling exactly the opposite of someone else. You can see some of the digital impact of #blacklivesmatter, #metoo, and other social justice hashtags on social media here.

The media loves to report what people think on social media. Rather than conducting a scientific poll to measure public opinion, television reporters and producers turn to Facebook and Twitter to report how people feel about any issue. This replaces a previous disturbing, sad trend of the “man on the street interview.” This is where a television reporter hopelessly stands on a street corner trying to get sound bites from random people, to fill a hole in a new story.

Years ago, stories would have run on the news and people would have voiced their opinions at the office water cooler, at the corner bar, or at the beauty parlor.

Social media is a virtual office water cooler, corner bar and beauty parlor all connected to the world’s largest amplifier.

Add to it that search engines and hashtags allow the amplification to be searched and then amplified through the television news media, which means the television media will tell you what people think.

Sadly, and with a degree of bias, the media tell you what they think the prevailing thoughts are, even though my compass analogy tells you that whatever one person thinks about one issue, someone else thinks something slightly or very different. For example, for each person who believes people must wear masks in public to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, there is another person who believes they should not have to, or that the use of masks is not helpful to prevent the spread.

Social media is full of opinions. Many of us have heard a variety of quotes about opinions. They range from the mild, “Opinions are like Belly Buttons, everybody has one;” to the slightly more crude, “Opinions are like farts. Just because you have one doesn’t mean you have to let it out;” to the even more crude analogy I heard during my television news career, “Opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one and thinks that everyone else’s stinks.” (Google “Opinion Quotes” to see countless more.)

The sad reality is the media, for nearly 20 years, has laid inflammatory opinions out for the public to hear, just to fuel a degree of outrage, so that people keep talking about what they heard on the news and where they heard it. News Talk Radio pioneered it and I’d say Rush Limbaugh turned it into an ugly ratings bonanza, copied by local talk radio, which has then been copied by Fox News and CNN each time they assemble a group of pundits who scream at each other with opposing views.

So how does this affect you if you are in PR and communications, working for a corporation, non-profit organization or government agency?

First, you must be more aware than ever that you will be judged harshly by critics for any and everything done by your organization, its executives, and its employees. Your efforts at good news publicity will be condemned by naysayers. Your future crises will become the focal point for public hostility in social media. I predict that someday in the not too distant future, companies will go out of business simply because of public pressure on social media.

Long term, your company could see serious damage to both reputation and revenue because of social media pressure. You could be forced to apologize for harmless acts or actions that capture the ire of social media.

In conclusion, every corporation, non-profit organization and government agency, and the executives and employees of each, face tougher scrutiny than ever. The time is now to rethink your media relations, social media and crisis communications strategies. What got no attention in the past will be more amplified than ever in the most costly ways.

Rethinking your media relations, social media, and crisis communications strategies can be extremely difficult and time-consuming, so these videos can walk you through it. View 5 Steps to Effective Crisis Communications here.

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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Should You Use a Written Statement or a Video Statement for Crisis Communications?

By Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC

In crisis communications many people are afraid to put a media spokesperson in front of the media for an interview or news conference. Often a company in crisis will ask, “Is it okay if we just issue a written statement? Do we have to do a news conference?” At the same time, corporate lawyers often write a statement and distribute it to the media, rather than having a news conference.

So which do you think is better? Should you use a written statement or an oral statement for crisis communications? And, as an option, can you issue a video statement?

First, recognize that written statements often feel canned. They used phrases such as, “Safety is our top priority,” even though the event is clearly an indication that safety was never the top priority.

Here are a few facts about written statements:

  • Written statements often feel cold, as though you are saying the absolute minimum.
  • Written statements often make it appear you are hiding the facts and the truth in a crisis.
  • Written statements often can be misinterpreted, because they lack the intonation of a voice.

When we speak, the audience can hear empathy, caring, and concern in our voice. For that reason, the spoken word is more powerful than the written word. Add to that the visual empathy and concern seen through facial expressions, and it should be a no brainer that any statement in which we hear a voice and see a human face is vastly more effective for crisis communications than a written statement.

Social media, Facebook Live, YouTube, YouTube Live, Twitter, Periscope and many other platforms make it easier than ever to record, publish, and share a statement during a crisis.

In the 5 Steps to Effective Crisis Communications, Step 3 is the concept of having 100 or more pre-written statements ready to use at a moments notice. (If you are not familiar with the 5 Steps to Effective Crisis Communications, sign up for our free 5-video course.) The pre-written statements should all be written for oral delivery. This means each statement is ready to be recorded and published to your crisis communications website or to your favorite social media platform.

You should note, that successfully recording a video or using a live social media video platform requires practice. In Step 4 of the 5 Steps, we emphasize the importance of media training. The same skills used to conduct an effective news conference can be used to record a video.

Does a video statement absolve you of your responsibility to conduct a news conference? No, it shouldn’t. In a crisis you should conduct interviews and/or news conferences. You should be prepared to successfully answer questions from the media.

However, if your organization tends to avoid news conferences in favor of printed statements, a video statement is an effective way to show more empathy, care, and concern.

If we can help you more successfully navigate the troubled waters of crisis communications, please reach out to us.

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…”

More crisis communications articles:

How to Use Social Media for Crisis Communications

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4 Steps Every Company Needs to Take in Order to Avoid the Default Spokesperson

Is Social Media Your Best Communications Platform for Crisis Communications?

By Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC 

Public relations professionals and public information officers (PIOs) love social media for crisis communications. Many PR professionals wanted to share their expert opinion on a previous blog I wrote when I asked, “Is Social Media Good for Crisis Communications?”

In a nutshell, the blog pointed out that Facebook and other social media platforms have changed their algorithms and they are intentionally showing your posts to fewer people. This means that

In a crisis, social media today doesn’t give you the reach it did five years ago.

-Gerard Braud

In a companion blog, I championed the use of Live Streaming features as a crisis communications tool. The algorithms do favor live broadcasts over a basic post.

We’ve had a bit of our own crisis on our blog, that our tech team is trying to fix. The ReCaptcha isn’t working and it is making it impossible for you to post your comments. We’re on it. But one of my colleagues went so far as to send me a nice email with his point of view regarding my blog post Is Social Media Good for Crisis Communications?  I am sharing his comments in this post.

I will say this about the use of social media for crisis communications – how you use it and how it benefits you depends upon two things:

  1. What type of organization do you represent?
  2. How big is your communications staff?

What Type of Organization Do You Represent?

If you communicate for an electric company or an electric cooperative and there is a power failure because of weather or a technical problem, you can bet your customers and members will go to Facebook on their phones to look for an update on the outage. Yes, you will find social media is good for crisis communications in this situation. And as I advocated in my live video blog, Live Stream on social media is a perfect way to manage the expectations of your customers before a serious weather event. But this does not absolve you of your obligation to post official information to your website newsroom.

If you are the public information officer for a police department or a government agency and you need to get information to members of your community, then yes, Facebook and Twitter are a great way to get information to the public. But this does not absolve you of your obligation to post official information to your website newsroom.

If you represent a corporation that doesn’t want to draw a lot of attention to your crisis, then no, Facebook and Twitter may not necessarily serve you well. But your newsroom on your website will always serve you well as home base for official information.

To be clear, every crisis communications plan I write includes directives on how and when to use social media in a crisis. However, the directives always include using social media to direct interested parties to your website newsroom.

How Big is Your Communications Staff?

Are you a one-person communication staff or do you have many people helping to communicate?

In crisis communications, your goal should be to share honest information with the media, your employees, and your stakeholders.

Your priority should NOT be to moderate comments on social media. Your PRIORITY should be to gather information, confirm information, and share information, then repeat the process again until the crisis has passed.

If you have a small communications staff, spending time moderating social media comments takes you away from your primary job.

For years I’ve advocated that social media is a tool and nothing more than one more communications channel. As I mentioned in my blog and as I’ve advocated for years, your website is the most secure place to post honest information. By using it consistently, you are able to train the media, your employees, and your stakeholders to trust that this is where they should go for OFFICIAL information.

In the comments below, Kerry Shearer will point out that many of the PIOs and government organizations he works with do not have the capability to post to a website and therefore social media and Live Streaming are their only option.  

I’ll agree that it is an option and that it is useful to PIOs, but if PIOs are professional communicators, then they need to demand the tools used by professional communicators. If a police officer requires a gun, bullets, and a patrol car to do his or her job, then a PIO requires access to their website to post news updates.

It’s 2019 and it is time to demand the tools you need. Stand up, stand your ground, and if you don’t have the tools you need to do your job, then move on to a place that respects you and will give you the tools you require. Yes – I know, that’s easier said than done. However, I’m a guy who has quit four jobs and moved on because I needed the right tools. I’ve always refused to remain in a job where an employer denied me the right to do my very best work. Not once have I regretted taking a stand and moving on to greener pastures of employment.

With that, here are comments from Kerry Shearer regarding Social Media for Crisis Communications:

Most of your posts are absolutely spot on.

I do disagree with the premise of this post, though — that social media is essentially a lost cause and agencies should run to their websites where no one can comment!

Many public agency websites are poorly designed, complicated to use, and not geared up to handle a stream of posts, pictures, and video that agencies SHOULD be doing.

When you bring in a team of PIOs from various agencies, they will not know the content management system or how to post. But everyone knows how to post to social media sites.

In fact, social media is THE place to be; that’s where the public is during a crisis. That’s where they are looking and talking.

If an agency is not there, their voice won’t be heard. In fact, it’s critical to be there FAST with holding statements when crisis breaks out to show you’re on top of the situation.

Jay failed to mention Facebook is now rolling out Local Alert functionality to all local agencies and emergency responders so agencies can hit a button and get in the newsfeed. This is huge. You know that FB has a bunch of reps assigned in regions across the country to work with government/public agencies to work out issues and take feature requests, right?

I worked on the PIO team in the City of Santa Rosa EOC for 11 days during northern California’s historic, devastating wildfires that leveled massive neighborhoods and businesses. We used video on FB to the hilt, turning most updates and advisories into a livestream or a fast-turnaround recording video shot and edited on a smartphone.

Combined with real-time social media inquiry response from PIO team, public reaction was super positive. And we got great input through our interactions that we turned into FAQ content.

We did FB live remotes from donation centers and the local assistance center. We livestreamed community meetings.

Most agencies are good at terse tweets devoid of humanity, but social video puts a “face” to the response, shows the public you’re in it with them, is easily sharable & media can use it.

In my experience teaching these techniques to public agencies and responders multiple times a month, the social side of crisis content creation should not be minimized or overlooked. It is actually a massive opportunity.

The fear of trolls should never be an excuse for not learning and implementing these techniques.

That’s my two cents!

–Kerry Shearer

Thank you Kerry for your observations. To be clear, my post never said social media is a lost cause. My observations are that social media gives you less reach than five years ago.

My position for fifteen years is that your website newsroom should be your home base for all accurate information about your crisis. Organizations that use social media for crisis communications should provide links back to their website newsroom.

Regarding PIOs who don’t have the skills to use a content management system, my observation is that it is a skill that can be taught and learned. A PIO’s job is to be a professional communicator and posting to a website is a professional skill I expect all professional communicators to have. A simple WordPress blog is only a hyperlink away on a government website that is out of date. Just add a link that says “News Room” and provide a redirect to an external web page that can be managed by the PIO.

  • Ultimately, social media has to be a right fit and not a forced fit.
  • Social media has to be a right fit for the type of organization you represent.
  • Social media has to be a right fit depending upon the size of your communications staff.

Your website newsroom is ALWAYS a right fit for crisis communications.

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…”

More crisis communications articles:

How to Use Social Media for Crisis Communications

The Biggest Lie in Crisis Communications

4 Steps Every Company Needs to Take in Order to Avoid the Default Spokesperson

Photo by Anders Krøgh Jørgensen on Unsplash

Is Social Media Good for Crisis Communications?

By Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC

The rules are changing when it comes to using social media for crisis communications.

That is because the social media giants such as Facebook, are making it harder for your crisis notifications to show up in the news feed of your subscribers.

Jay Baer is one of the top experts in the use of social media. He recently told me that Facebook has pulled the football out from underneath you like Lucy pulls the football out from Charlie Brown just before he can kick it.

During one of his presentations, he showed a frightening graph of how since 2014, Facebook has been showing your posts to fewer of your followers and friends. They really want you to buy Facebook ads, but I’d never suggest you do that in a crisis.

You’ve likely noticed in your own social media use that you don’t see posts from as many of your friends as you did five years ago. Facebook has intentionally done this.

If you write a post and no one clicks like or comments, your post will die.

If someone clicks “like,” Facebook lets a few more people see it with each like.

If someone comments, Facebook shows it to even more people.

In other words, Facebook gives you more views with each interaction.

This means I have good news and bad news for you when it comes to crisis communications.

The good news is that if fewer people see your post about a crisis, that means fewer trolls can say ugly things about your organization.

The bad news is, if you have something important that you want people to see, fewer people will see your post.

Honestly, your website should be the main place where people read about your crisis. You own that real estate. You don’t own your space on social media. Jay Baer has always said that

You should never build your house on rented land.

Social media is rented land. On the other hand, you own your website and hopefully you have a robust newsroom where you share good and bad news alike.

When using social media in a crisis, you should never try to grab attention with a compelling headline. Rather, you should simply write, “We have an update to our event posted on our website.” Then add the link. Those who know about the crisis can learn more with one click.

Social media is a double edged sword.

Experience tells us that in a crisis, it may increase damage to your organization’s reputation and revenue.  However, many communicators think social media might enhance their corporate reputation because they are being transparent and open. The place to be transparent and open is on your website where no one can comment. Being open and transparent on social media only attracts trolls and negative comments. In a crisis, you are too busy with more important things than to try to moderate comments from trolls and nay sayers.

The reality is, a proper, honest post on your company website is as open and transparent as you can be. Use the land you own and not the land you rent.

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…”

More crisis communications articles:

How to Use Social Media for Crisis Communications

The Biggest Lie in Crisis Communications

4 Steps Every Company Needs to Take in Order to Avoid the Default Spokesperson


How to Use Social Media for Crisis Communications

By Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC 

One of the best new social media tools for crisis communications is Facebook Live. Second in your crisis communications toolkit should be YouTube Live. Third would be any of the other live platforms on social media channels where your audience might follow you during a crisis. For some of you, LinkedIn Live or Periscope on Twitter are a good fit.

You should especially embrace live platforms during serious weather events and natural disasters. For example, this is being written during the first week of September 2019. Annually this is the most active week of hurricane season. Last week we saw the devastation of Hurricane Dorian. With the massive number of communities threatened, Live video would have been and should have been in the tool chest of every community, every utility company, every law enforcement agency, and many companies.

If your company, community, or organization could be affected by a hurricane this season, live video becomes a great way to manage the expectations of your audience before a crisis. Live video becomes a great crisis communications tool during the crisis, and after the event is over, you can inform your audience about how the event affected them in their relationship to you. For example, you can broadcast information about how long before roads are opened or how long before power is restored.

A perfect example would be that an electric company or any government agency could use live videos to warn their audiences about the need for disaster preparation. They could give guidelines for evacuation or precautions. Most importantly, they could use live videos to manage the expectations of which creature comforts might be lost as a result of the hurricane.

Keep in mind, this is also true all winter long when forecasters predict freezing rain, ice storms, blizzards, and other winter storms. This is also true all during tornado season.

Weather events can become crisis events.

Weather events cause a loss of creature comforts such as heating, air conditioning, refrigeration, lights, and all things utility related in a weather event.

People might not evacuate during a hurricane out of fear that they could die. However, they might evacuate – and be less of a burden to you after the storm – if you clearly inform them of how miserable they will be without lights, refrigeration, and air conditioning.

Also remember, that when the lights go out, people turn to social media for updates. Your live videos can and should be their updates.

During Tropical Storm and Hurricane Barry in July 2019, I did a number of live news videos on Facebook Live and YouTube Live so you can see examples of what you need to be prepared to do.

  • Your lighting needs to be good enough for us to see your face.
  • Your audio needs to be good to overcome wind noise.
  • Your content needs to be brief and to the point.
  • You can’t afford to mess up because you are live.
  • You get one chance to get it right, so you better practice.

My videos are often near perfect because I have lots of practice. For 15 years I was a TV reporter, doing live reports daily. Chances are I’ve been on TV live up to 5,000 times.

The real question, is how good can you be live?

If you’d like help being great when you shoot videos live and pre-recorded, check out my program called Weathering the Storm. It is a great hands-on, interactive course to help you make the most of social media and videos during a crisis.

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…”

More crisis communications articles:

Please Pick Me to be Your Media Trainer

The Biggest Lie in Crisis Communications

4 Steps Every Company Needs to Take in Order to Avoid the Default Spokesperson

The Media Are Listening in a Crisis

(Writer’s note: Every day in March we’ll have a fresh, free, new article on this topic. If you’d like to dig deeper, you may wish to purchase a recording of the teleseminar called Social Media & Crisis Communications. Here is your purchase link.)

By Gerard Braud

Among those listening IMG_0470* copyand fostering social media are the mainstream media. CNN’s i-
Report format is perhaps the most dominant among mainstream media, but other media outlets have their own channels for sharing photos and videos. The same is true for local media.

Because I am a regular contributor to i-Reports during weather events and natural disasters, CNN has turned to me on numerous occasions to provide live, on the air interviews. This is something each of you should be prepared to do should you experience a crisis where you work.

I first discovered the power of i-Report during an unusual snowstorm in New Orleans in December 2008. I posted a 15 second i-Report, which CNN pulled off of the web and aired going into their weather reports. It was shot with a point and shoot digital camera, then uploaded via my laptop. I was able to be on location in the snow where no reporters were and I was able to shoot and upload the video faster than any news crew could. Before any assignments editor could think about sending out a news crew, I had already done the job of the assignments editor, the reporter, the producer, the photographer and the editor. Furthermore, it cost the network nothing to have a timely news report.

CNN liked my video so much that they asked me to do a live report via my laptop web camera. Unfortunately, the live report was cancelled at the last minute because a bigger story broke on the national scene. Minutes before airtime, the body of Caylee Anthony was discovered in Florida, after months of speculation that the child had been killed by her mother, Casey Anthony. But just the same, technology placed me where they had no news crews.  The media’s own social network allowed me to speak and the media listened.

Since then, my i-Reports to CNN in Tropical Storm Lee in August 2011 and Hurricane Isaac in August 2012, resulted in the networkCNN iReport Lee Web asking me to be their correspondent, providing live reports for several days. I’ll explain the technical side of how you can do this in a future article.

In the case of the Haiti earthquake in 2010 and the Japanese tsunami in 2011, CNN i-Reports allowed CNN have to have reports in the early hours of these crises. However, as the infrastructure of electricity and communications weakened and collapsed, social media tools became less effective for CNN.

There are two events that I consider as game changers in the world of social media, and especially how it brought out of reach crises to the mainstream media.

One is the January 15, 2009 miracle on the Hudson, in which US Airlines flight 1549 made an emergency landing in the Hudson River. What makes this a game changer is that New York is the undisputed media capitol of the world. No single city in the world has a larger collection of global media correspondents. Yet the first official picture used by the media was a Twitter picture taken with an i-Phone by a man who was on a ferry. He tweeted that the ferry was going to rescue survivors and he included a photo. He was there, where no other reporter could be. Additionally, he knew more about the crash than anyone at US Airways corporate headquarters. So, in this case, the company could use Twitter as a way to listen and get updates. It required the airline to proceed with caution as it attempted to verify facts. We must all be careful not to fall victim to a possible hoax or a Photoshopped image.

To verify what the airline saw on Twitter, should the airline start tweeting back? As we’ll discuss a little later, that depends on many other variables.

The second game changer was on April 16, 2007, when a gunman went on a shooting spree at Virginia Tech. That day is filled with more crisis communications lessons than we have time to cover in this series of articles. These are lessons I am happy to discuss with you in depth in another forum.  On the day of the shooting, a student with a cell phone innocently stepped outside of a building and came upon police trying to storm a building where the gunman was killing 30 people. The student was so close that you could hear 26 gunshots in his video, which he immediately uploaded as an i-Report to CNN. The student took the global media and their global audiences into a place where no media should have been and where no media could go.

I think we can use these game changers as a launching point to emphasize the need for speed in crisis communications. Among the lessons that we should touch on here is that, had the university had a properly written crisis communications plan, it would have dictated communications within the first hour of the crisis. All of this was covered in a previous article. Add to your to-do list that in your crisis communications plan, it clearly needs to state that your organization will begin communicating with the outside world within one hour or less of any crisis going public.

Most crisis communications plans have no mandates at all. Most crisis communications plans, like the Virginia Tech plan on that day, are fatally flawed because they state standard operating procedures, but contain no mandates or timelines for implementing those standard operating procedures.

In this case, the first shooting happened at 7:15 a.m. and the first communications should have begun no later than 8:15 a.m. Proper communications would have likely cancelled classes and locked down the campus, in which case, the student with the cell phone would never have had the opportunity to stumble across this news event and become an i-reporter. More importantly, communications within one hour would have kept most, if not all, students from entering the campus, which would have prevented the deaths of 30 people.

For the record, the first communications from Virginia Tech came out at 9:25 a.m., which was 10 minutes after the second shooting began. Here you clearly see several compelling reasons why there is a need for speed and why you must always begin communicating within the first hour of the onset of the crisis.

This Virginia Tech cell phone video is further a game changer because the university was so oblivious as to what was happening. They waited a full five hours after the crisis began before sending forth a human to make a public statement. A human should have been making a statement within the first hour. Instead, the world was clamoring about the shooting and the story was being told from everyone’s perspective except the university’s.

For timeline purposes, let us note that Facebook was functioning at that time as primarily a tool exclusive to college students, so the outside world was limited on how much they could look in. Also at this time, Twitter was about to be launched and didn’t play a role in this crisis.

Without getting side tracked on the sins of Virginia Tech, the bottom line is the media monitor social media for breaking news, and in the case of CNN, they have a team of people who are constantly reviewing and vetting i-Reports. If you are not ready to use these tools to control the flow of information about your crisis, expect that eyewitnesses with smart phones will control more of the story than you will.

Tomorrow, I’ll teach you about the tools I use to file my live reports, even when I have no electricity in a hurricane.