Google the term "social media fails" and it's easy to understand why companies large and small can be hesitant about establishing and regularly utilizing a social media presence. Social media are great, inexpensive tools for communicating with customers, employees and the public at large. They can also establish the foundation for a successful crisis communications strategy, but a thoughtless or careless plan can certainly invite reputational damage.
According to a recent report on the devastating 2013 floods in Calgary from the Conference Board of Canada, social media played a key role in the city's effective response and rapid recovery. The city of Calgary made efficient and coordinated use of disaster-specific Twitter hashtags (#YYCFlood, #ABflood), allowing city employees to gather on-the-ground information relevant to the official response, as well as manage the optics of the crisis. While municipalities should certainly take note of Calgary's success, the example contains valuable lessons for every organization.
3 Tips for Developing an Effective Social Media Crisis Strategy
- Before disaster strikes, develop trust: The City of Calgary maintained active social media accounts that attracted a relatively high number of followers. Moreover, it used its media platforms to communicate with the public during smaller incidents, such as water main breaks, which built its credibility. Effective communication requires trust, which only time and consistency can build.
- Engage your leadership: According to the Conference Board of Canada report, "Social media specialists were assisted by a leadership core that acknowledged its potential for inspiring a sense of reassurance and empowerment among the public as well as providing a rationale and context for some of the operational decisions that were being made across the city." In order to be effective, leveraging social media in crisis communications must have top leadership's full support and involvement.
- Communicate consistently and concisely: The days of "no comment" and other delay tactics are long gone. Today's public expects information, and they expect it now. The effective utilization of social media in a crisis situation can go a long way toward accomplishing this goal. Its instantaneous is it greatest asset.