Thoughts on managing social media in a crisis


20 / 6 / 2014 9.21am

Social media, in particular Twitter, built an early reputation as being useful during crises and emergencies. This reputation strengthened as social media was used across the world to organise and cover huge political events.Using social media for real-time feedback from profiles on the ground, often individuals, and official profiles, often government, opposition or media organisations, creates an unrivaled source of information during a crisis or major incident. However, risks surround social media’s use during a crisis. As seen during the UK riots in the summer of 2011, rumours can spread very quickly through these networks and can create added complexity for emergency services and the media.

Here are the top six tips to use when planning how you would cover a crisis or major incident on social media for your organisation.

  1. Build your community – without anyone to talk to in the event of a crisis you’re up-to-date and correct information will not spread, hampering efforts to squash rumours quickly. Build your community on your social media channel and aim to have your organisation’s and/or individual profile trusted as the source of correct information before any crisis begins.
  2. Network offline – by working together online, the NHS and emergency services can react swiftly to any major incident; ensuring all of their messages are linked up and consistent. To do this you need working relationships with the people in those organisations: fire brigade, police, ambulance, local hospital, and local and regional commissioners. Network with these organisations’ teams and social media staff so that when a crisis hits you can contact them quickly and easily to coordinate your social media response. Best practice would be having an agreed social media process to go through with those organisations in case of a crisis.
  3. Have a holding tweet – in case of a crisis have a ready-to-go tweet that states your organisation is aware of the incident and are working on it. Using Twitter to put out a very brief holding statement in the form of a tweet can save you time from working on a full holding statement and will help meet the public and media’s appetite for the latest news.
  4. When a crisis hits promote yourselves – don’t just send updates out and hope the right people and organisations find you. Target local media organisations, make sure their journalists know where to find the latest information online and maintain a regular presence online – outside of office hours if required – not allowing your channels to go quiet for hours on end. Have a plan of who to contact online in the event of a crisis to help spread the latest, correct information to the people who need or want it.
  5. Monitor the right hashtag(s) – don’t just answer mentions, direct messages or comments on your website, blog or Facebook page, make sure that you monitor and use the hashtag(s) for the crisis on Twitter and proactively engage with the audience using it to keep them up-to-date.
  6. Plan your staffing – if a crisis were to happen what would happen to your social media specialist staff? Would they be expected to stay in the office for 16 hours without a break or can other staff take over their monitoring and responding role so they can have a break? What would happen to the social media response during a crisis when the clock ticks past 17:30?

Certain parts of the NHS may also be interested in signing up to the Twitter alerts service, which can help provide messages to large numbers of people in the event of a major incident or crisis.

You can download a PDF version of this blog from our resources section.

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