Good news travels fast. Bad news travels faster. By the time a crisis is reported in traditional media, it has likely already been the topic of online discussions.
Social media, then, represents both exciting opportunities and challenges for an organization in the midst of a crisis. A well-organized crisis plan has a role for social media in sharing accurate information in real-time and maintaining contact with important audiences. Without a plan, social media can become a source of new wildfires, such as inaccurate reporting and rumor, distracting focus from the central issue.
In social media training sessions with clients, I advise them the best way to use social media during a crisis is to begin using it before the crisis occurs. In the midst of a crisis is no time to be learning on the job about social media or trying to build a valuable network. By building a network early, an organization can establish itself as a trusted source of information. In the organization’s absence the conversations will continue with someone else taking on the role of trusted resource.
As with other parts of a crisis communications plan, social media activity requires a commitment to credibility, accuracy, and timeliness. The key elements of a successful social media role in crisis communications include:
- A pre-crisis plan identifying who has posting authority during the crisis
- Identification of the type of information to be shared on each network
- A monitoring plan for identifying conversations and comments
- A guide for responding to comments, correcting misinformation, and sharing links to accurate information
- A post-crisis plan to analyze results and gather feedback.
If your existing plan does not include the role of social media it is time to upgrade. Otherwise, you are giving bad news a head start.