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Thursday, 11 July 2019 14:04

Three Important Things to Remember When Using Social Media in Crisis Communication

Written by  VIVIAN MARINELLI

Marinelli VivianSocial media has redefined the way we communicate daily with family, friends and, in business. Recent crisis responses have documented ways in which social media was utilized to provide information and connect with those impacted to help alleviate the level of anxiety and stress as quickly as possible. The impact of a crisis is felt not only by those directly impacted, but also, by various stakeholders of your organization.

Most companies have developed an emergency response plan and have identified, and hopefully trained, their emergency response team members on the plan. Many have also included communications into their planning having recognized the need for information and messages to come from the company to maintain their reputation. However, not all organizations are utilizing social media as a component in their crisis communications.

There have been many best practices identified when using social media for communicating during a crisis. Today, we’ll look at three of those best practices:

1. Make sure you are prepared to use social media during a crisis. You are probably thinking this is obvious. Of course, we’re prepared! We use social media every day to provide information on our company. However, communication while in a full-blown crisis is quite different than on any given workday. You will have one component already identified though, the channels that will be most relevant for your audiences. These are the ones that you are already engaging your audiences with and have built your company’s online identity.

Preparation should also include the development of holding statements that can be pre-written and pre-authorized for release should a crisis occur. Initial holding statements would include acknowledgement by your company that you are aware of the situation and will have updated information to share in the future.

Keep in mind that social media is a two-way means of communication. As such, your communication team will be providing information on your organization’s response to the crisis and, they should also be using it for gathering information about the crisis and how people are feeling. Identifying the channels for listening should be included in your crisis communications planning. Social media listening will provide additional information that will be useful in the development of subsequent messaging and your overall response. A critical goal, when a crisis occurs, is to maintain or, rebuild, trust in your organization and that is accomplished by communication.

2. Identify your stakeholders. Who are your audiences that you will need to communicate with? Keep in mind that your communication is not just for your external stakeholders. It’s important that your staff receive information from you before they hear it from the media. Provide information on the crisis and where they can go for additional information. Once you start communicating, be sure to continue to provide updates as the response evolves. Creating a strategy for messaging that includes the channels to be used, scheduling for communication and, escalating the communication if needed should be included in your crisis communication planning.

Your messaging should also communicate that your organization is concerned about how your stakeholders are being impacted and, how you are working to address those concerns.

When using social media for communication, after your initial response, it is recommended that you offer other means of communicating than just social media. This could be a phone number to contact your communications team, an email address or, the URL for your website. This additional information will also help communicate that your organization is being as transparent as possible with updates on your support of the response.

3. Preparedness include practice. Once you’ve developed your crisis communications plan, identified your stakeholders and pre-developed your messaging templates, now it’s time to put the plan to the test. Don’t do all the building of the communication vehicle and never test drive it until an actual crisis. In crisis response, we know that even the best written plan needs to be tested to identify any gaps or obstacles that might impact our ability to support when the time comes. Testing the plan can also identify roles or responsibilities that may need to be reassigned as well.

A good place to start would be initially as an exercise involving only the communications team. This could be kicked off with a notification to the team that a crisis situation has been reported. Have one or more scenarios pre-identified to provide to the team and see how quickly and efficiently they can use the plan to develop the social media postings for the various channels. Review the messages for clarity of information and communication of the appropriate sentiment from the organization.

The next test of the plan should be to include this process in your annual tabletop exercise. This will help everyone to see how the information that is being shared in the emergency command center is being utilized to communicate with your stakeholders (both external and internal). By including this in the annual exercise, you will also be able to identify if there are any bottlenecks that will slow down the communications team’s ability to receive information and provide updates on the response.

The immediacy nature of social media offers you a public forum to speak to your stakeholders, acknowledge your awareness of the situation and, inform them of your current response. It also will be a means to direct them to additional resources for updates on the response. It will also provide your communications team with information on issues they need to address in upcoming messages and will provide your spokesperson with a better understanding of the sentiment that is being experienced by those impacted.

You can communicate so much information, to so many people, with so few words. Why wouldn’t you be using the powerful communication tool that is social media?

Vivian Marinelli is senior director of crisis management services at FEI Behavioral Health.