More Americans are using social media with seven-in-ten using it to connect with other people, to get news, to share information and for entertainment (Pew Research Center, 2019). As more people use social media to get their news and information , how can you use it to your advantage in a crisis situation?
Have a plan and practice
Social media should be incorporated into your organization’s crisis decision making and policy development process. You should have social media policies in place to cover a variety of emergency and crisis situations. Share the social media policy with key leaders in your organization and other members of your communications team before an actual crisis (Lin, Spence, Sellnow & Lachlan, 2016). This will give your crisis response team time review the policies before a crisis situation occurs so they understand their role and the processes they need to follow.
The American Red Cross uses this approach to prepare for a crisis situation. Their organization has built a social media policy for different crisis situations. Their leaders and staff involved in managing a crisis go through regular crisis training and drills. They also update their social media policy, tools and strategy on a regular basis to ensure they can quickly respond to a crisis or emergency situation (Lin, Spence, Sellnow & Lachlan, 2016).
Join the conversation
Social media by its definition should be social. Organizations are usually reluctant to interact with the public on social media unless they have to protect their image. Don’t just use social media to passively share your information. One of the benefits of social media is two-way communication.
Take advantage of this benefit in an emergency or disaster. Look for opportunities where your organization can be part of the conversation and engage in two-way communication. This will give you more opportunity to interact with a larger audience who can join the discussion and help you spread your information (Lin, Spence, Sellnow & Lachlan, 2016).
Local people can also be your eyes and ears in a crisis or emergency situation. Use social media to engage with eyewitnesses because they can help you monitor the situation as it unfolds to help you with your response (Lin, Spence, Sellnow & Lachlan, 2016). An example of an eyewitness account is Youtube user escot2008 who posted a video of buildings swaying during the 2011 earthquake in Japan (Dokixono, 2011).
Balance between timely updates with accurate information
During a crisis, people tend to view quick updates in their social media feeds as more relevant. It’s important for your organization to respond quickly in a crisis. However, if the information is poorly executed then your audience could view the information as incomplete, inaccurate and misleading. If this happens not only have you lost credibility with your audience, but your organization’s brand and reputation have also likely been damaged (Lin, Spence, Sellnow & Lachlan, 2016).
Find the balance between providing quick and timely updates that are accurate. Post updates frequently enough that your audience sees them and the information is available to people searching for information. Ask your employees to retweet or repost your updates to their personal social media platforms to help share your updates to a larger audience (Lin, Spence, Sellnow & Lachlan, 2016).
Own your hashtag
If you use a hashtag, be sure to police how it is used so your audience can easily find the information. For example, NOAA and FEMA used hashtag #sandy during Hurricane Sandy. Approximately 2,000 tweets used the #sandy hashtag, but only nine were from NOAA or FEMA. The majority of posts were people sharing their concerns about the storm and provided little practical use (Lin, Spence, Sellnow & Lachlan, 2016).
If you own the hashtag, you can direct your audience to useful and important information that they need to know. Relying on hashtags created from the general public could give your audience misinformation and spam (Lin, Spence, Sellnow & Lachlan, 2016).
Watch for wrong information
Monitor social media for rumors and misinformation. Inaccurate information could be started intentionally or when there is a lack of information from reliable sources. If organizations are unable to provide information, people will accept rumors, misinformation and unlikely explanations to fill the information void (Lin, Spence, Sellnow & Lachlan, 2016).
Incorrect information can also begin from credible sources. For example, after the school shooting in Newtown Connecticut several news organizations incorrectly identified on social media the shooters brother, Ryan, instead of the actual shooter Adam Lanza (Lin, Spence, Sellnow & Lachlan, 2016).
Rumors and incorrect information can lead to harm to your organization’s reputation and people involved or impacted by the crisis. This is why it’s important for you to monitor social media and to correct any inaccurate information as quickly as possible.
Facebook or Twitter: Which should you use?
People use Facebook and Twitter differently in a crisis. Twitter is considered useful to provide early warnings or alerts about a crisis. Twitters use of hashtags makes it easier for people to identify a crisis in the making (Eriksson & Olsson, 2016). It is also considered a “gateway to other news.” People can easily scan their Twitter feed to understand what is going on without visiting traditional media websites (Eriksson & Olsson, 2016).
According to the Pew Research Center, 68% of adults use Facebook, making it the most widely used social media platform in the United States (Pew Research Center, 2017). People also view it as a more useful source for news and information about a crisis situation. It’s the platform people use to discuss crisis events with family and friends and where people share eyewitness accounts before, during and after a crisis situation (Eriksson & Olsson, 2016).
Remember that there are no pre-determined plans and communication channels to ensure your organization will successfully manage a crisis. What is important is to use the right social media platforms based on the situation and the key audiences impacted by crisis (Eriksson & Olsson, 2016).