How Crisis Communicators Rely on Social Media

by Chris Bahn  on Monday, Mar. 18, 2013 12:00 am  

A mobile application allows Entergy users to get updates on where power outages are occurring and the estimated time for when those utilities should be restored.

“Those who amass a significant Twitter following can employ the platform as a powerful vehicle to communicate quickly and directly to their audiences,” Lehane said in a recent email exchange.

Avoiding More Disaster

Because Twitter allows communicators to reach large audiences quickly, it can be a helpful tool in times of crisis. And because Twitter allows communicators to reach large audiences quickly, it can also be a damaging tool in times of crisis.

Type “social media disasters” into Google and you get 31 million results. While not all of the examples returned relate specifically to communicating with the masses during a storm or similar event, they do show how wrong things can go in 140 characters or less.

Even once apologies or corrections are made, incorrect information can take on a life of its own online. Information spreads quickly, so what a company distributes shouldn’t do more harm than good, especially in a time of crisis like the winter power outage.

(For advice from six spokespeople on how to handle crises, click here.)

Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods, the Little Rock advertising and PR agency, has worked on just about any crisis communications situation you can imagine. The firm has counseled after airplane crashes, plant explosions, oil spills, train derailments, employee deaths, product recalls and personnel issues. It’s provided litigation support. And accuracy is always key.

Denver Peacock, senior vice president and chief marketing officer, handles strategic communications for CJRW. He points to immediacy and transparency as essential in crisis situations, but warns the immediacy can’t come at the expense of accuracy.

“You have to be very careful with the information you’re communicating to the public,” Peacock said. “But you also have to do it very quickly, as quickly as possible in light of the conversation. You don’t want to get out there with bad information and create a second problem, which is now you have to correct the bad information.”

Munsell said multiple Entergy employees were part of the process for sending each individual tweet. That slowed things down some, but it prevented bad information from getting circulated.

Communication with crews in the field was vital to keeping the public informed. From the field, it went to what Munsell described as a “war room” and then out to the public.

“That’s probably one of the most difficult parts during a storm because the status changes so rapidly,” Munsell said. “So it’s imperative you make sure information is accurate while you get it out as quickly as possible.”



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