Crisis Communications Compendium: Lessons from Boston

The horrific attacks in Boston last week amplified the challenges of using social media during a crisis. The tragedy also proved how important it is to use social media the right way during a disaster. How you handle a real-time response during a crisis reflects the effectiveness of your crisis communications plan.

Immediate Response

A 2010 American Red Cross survey found that during an emergency, nearly half of its respondents would mention the event on their social media channels, while one in six respondents would use social media to get more information on the crisis. “When television media were busy showing aftermath video of the Boston Marathon explosions…people on the scene at the time of the blasts were sharing their images and video on Twitter, once again highlighting the power of social media over traditional media,” states Gil Rudawsky in 8 Communications Guidelines for a Crisis.

In the immediate aftermath of a crisis, social media managers must be extremely cautious about what is posted. Though all events are different, the first responsibility is to the victims and their families, Rudawsky observes. It’s not wrong to show emotion, he says.

The second immediate task: Turn off your automated social media feeds, warns Jeremy Stahl in his response to the media’s coverage of the Boston bombings, Thou Shalt Not Stoop to Political Point-Scoring. While you may not be in danger of making a mistake as paramount as some of the companies listed in the Biggest Social Media Disasters of 2012, an off-subject or promotional tweet during a crisis paints an uncaring picture.

Third: Inform employees of the event and how your company plans to respond, as advised in Samantha Hosenkamp’s How Social Media Managers Should React When Tragedy Strikes. Employees should already be well-trained on managing Facebook and Twitter accounts during a crisis, adds Ken Scudder in Handling Twitter During a Crisis. You can’t forbid employees from using social media, he reasons, but you can point out how important it is for the company’s reputation to have a uniform voice and accurate information.

How a company responds during the first hour after a crisis strikes, or The Golden Hour, is critically important for mitigating damage. Patty Briguglio summarizes her crisis plan, “Tell it all. Tell it fast. Tell the truth.”

Examine Effectiveness of Your Plan in Place

Critique how your crisis communications plan responded to the Boston Marathon attacks. Was your strategy social enough? Look at all your audiences and identify channels that will be used to communicate with them during emergencies and crises, advises Patrice Cloutier in Why Your Crisis Communications Plan Should Be SOCIAL. Using SOCIAL as an acronym, Cloutier spells out the importance of a plan that is Strategic, Operational, Collaborative, Informative, Adaptable and Lasting. “Informative” means providing value to your readers, not just retweeting what is already known. Using last week as an example, many PR pros reached out through social media to inform followers about Google re-launching its Person Finder tool so family and friends could contact their loved ones during a time period when cell service was difficult.

Another key component in your plan: Put a monitoring system in place if you don’t already have one, Hosenkamp further writes. Monitoring your company and brand is important, but your monitoring strategy should also include breaking news outlets such as CNN so that you’re always up-to-the-minute on the general situation. Bottom line: The right media monitoring plan includes tools that keep you up-to-date on both company news and breaking news so that whatever type of crisis takes place, you’re prepared to manage.

Note: For more information on how to improve your crisis management, you may want to register for the Advanced Crisis Communication Strategy conference in May, presented by Jim Lukaszewski and hosted by the Public Relations Society of America.

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