Social Media for Crisis Communications: Social Media Confusion in Crisis Communication

By, Gerard Braud

USF Web Crisis All ClearIt is difficult to control what gets said on social media during a crisis. Often, the
misinformation that is spread rapidly on social media causes panic and potential harm.

Let’s look at a case study of Twitter gone bad when it hits the fan. When the Virginia Tech shooting occurred, Twitter was just at its launching point and was therefore not a factor. But in 2009 there was a gunman reported on the campus of the University of South Florida. Thank God the situation did not escalate into an actual shooting, because as you will see, Twitter has the potential to create chaos, fear and confusion.1_USF - gunman tweets-1

When the gunman was first reported, the school used their text message system to notifyUSF - gunman on campus students of the potential danger. Those text messages became tweets, which were re-tweeted in an endless cascade. The cascade of tweets reminded me very much of people who want their 15 minutes of fame when they are interviewed by traditional media. People long to be important and a re-tweet makes them feel good, feel smart and feel like they are making a difference. But with each passing minute they were doing potentially more harm than good.

When the all clear was given, it was sent to Twitter. But for the next few hours, tweets and re-tweets kept telling students to take cover because there was a gunman on campus. The university had lost control of the message and the rumor mill was hard at work.

To the university’s credit, they were using one of the platforms that I always suggest using, which was their official website. To their credit, they were using Twitter to both tweet the all clear and to include a link to the official website.USF cynic on false alarm

Since every company is vulnerable to mass shootings, part of every organizations crisis communications strategy should be to have software that can be automated to constantly re-tweet your all clear message. Applications such as Tweet Adder allow you to type in a message and schedule it to be re-tweeted as many times as you like and as frequently as you like. This means you can type in an all clear message, complete with hashtags for the event and a link to your official website. If you program it to tweet every five minutes, you will essentially be outshouting those well meaning people who think they are helping when they erroneously tweet a shooting is still under way.

Tweet-Adder-ReviewAdd to your to-do list to set time aside to discuss the damage that cascading re-tweets might have during your crisis. You also need to discuss how you will cope with this problem. Also, take time to download Tweet Adder or similar software, then learn to use it.


Social Media for Crisis Communications: The Social Media Force Fit Versus the Right Fit for Crisis Communications

By Gerard Braud

Twitter over capacityYour parents probably taught you there is a right place and a wrong place for everything. That is true for crisis communication and for social media.

Many Gen X & Gen Y communicators think the bulk of their crisis communications can be done exclusively through social media. I disagree for many reasons. In a previous article, we identified the generation gap that indicates many people in your audience, and even your own company, don’t use social media.

In order for you to understand my prejudice and point of view, you need to know that I’m a control freak. When “it” hits the fan, I want you to control as many variables as you can. That means you need to know your audience and know where to find my audience.

I read a blog post recently about a small coffee shop that was being challenged by their local health department because they allow dogs into their store. The coffee shop successfully used Twitter to reach their customers for support. This is a very low level crisis and the fit is right. Most crises I deal with are far greater.

Even in the case of the coffee house, I would be using other communications tools first. I would be using my website, my e-mail list, a video on my website… all things I have direct control over. I would conduct an Ambassador Training class for my staff. Ambassador Training is a system I pioneered many years ago that is similar to Media Training. It teaches employees how to properly talk about a negative issue with customers. In a crisis, word of mouth is important.

Social media channels can be good tools for ambassadors and employees who support you, provided the audience is of the right age group. In the end, social media is one of many tools to consider and it is not, be default, the highest priority tool.


Social Media for Crisis Communications: Social Media as the Cause of Your Crisis

By Gerard Braud

YouTube Flicker Dominos VideoAs we examine the leadership gap, the generation gap, and shiny new object syndrome, let’s note that in many cases, in the world of crisis communications, social media can be a greater source of bad than good.

The fact that a citizen can post a picture of a plane crash before the airline knows about it is not good. The fact that a student is broadcasting a shooting to CNN before you even know about it is not good. The fact that your employees are part of a social media gossip loop before you send official communications to them is not good. Now, let us add to the discussion the fact that sometimes, social media is your crisis.

Case in point, Easter Day, April 16, 2009. Two employees at a Domino’s Pizza outlet were bored and started to shoot a video of themselves. One captured the other putting cheese inYouTube Flicker Dominos Video1 his nose, before placing the cheese on a pizza he was making. They then uploaded the video to YouTube.

It was an astute blogger who had a Google Alert for the word Domino’s that first saw the video. The blogger called Domino’s headquarters. The folks at Domino’s were not amused and not pleased, and they took steps internally to identify the employees and the store. But Domino’s did not anticipate that this video would become a viral wonder. They underestimated the YouTube audience. So here, we see multiple failings. There is the classic leadership gap, there is decision paralysis, and there is the generation gap.

Earlier in this collection of articles I told you that a cardinal rule of every crisis communications plan that I write is a mandate to communicate within one hour or less of the crisis going public. Obviously Domino’s did not have such a plan, because the one hour mark would have been reached one hour after they heard from the blogger. In many crises, at that one hour mark, depending upon the severity of the crisis, you would speak to any media who have arrived at your site; you would publish something to the web; and you would communicate with employees, via the web, via e-mail, and in severe situations, with an in person meeting.

What do you do in the new world of social media when “it” hits the fan?

In the world of decision paralysis, one of the problems is the fear that if the company says something, they may turn a nothing story into a bigger story than it should be. Hence, many companies, often on the advice of both attorneys and the communications department, say nothing. I have never subscribed to that rule and never will. I have successfully defused events that could have become major stories and lead to major lawsuits by bringing the story directly to traditional media. I believe that being pro-active and communicating bad news on your own is your best defense.

Add to your to-do list the need to have a discussion with your leadership and your legal department. In that discussion, you need to ask them under which circumstances they would suggest saying nothing. It needs to ultimately conclude with a decision to speak and disclose your potential crisis in almost every situation.

The system that I have created, using pre-written communications templates, has resolved that situation for all of my clients. This is due to the fact that lawyers get to see exactly what we plan to say, giving them time to approve all of the statements – sometimes months or years in advance.

The Domino’s case presents a to unique opportunity to respond in-kind, meaning respond to a YouTube video with a YouTube video and do it within one hour. Let me explain the magic of this approach. Domino’s eventually responded with a YouTube video, which we will discuss further in a moment. However, inside sources tell me that the general discussion within the organization was that for a company as big as Domino’s, if the story wasn’t on the front page of U.S.A. Today, then there was nothing to worry about.

Wrong! The offending video was posted late Sunday and by Tuesday evening, more than 250,000 people… more than a quarter of a million people had watched the video. By noon Wednesday, just 18 hours later, the video had more than 1 Million views on YouTube. The company learned the word Domino’s was being typed into more search engines than the word Paris Hilton. Domino’s was still thinking that out of 307 million people in the United States, only 1 million had seen the video, which was minimal in the big picture. I At 1 million hits the video got the attention of mainstream media and became a story among all major media outlets across the U.S.

So, what would you do? My answer is I would have had a YouTube video on YouTube within one hour of learning of the event, even if I didn’t know all of the facts. Why? Let me explain.

Rule 1. Respond within one hour or less, but in the case of social media we add a new rule.

Rule 2. Respond in-kind, meaning answer a YouTube video with a YouTube video. If, when you post your video, you use the same key words as the offending video, you can achieve nearly equal search engine optimization. That means that every time someone types the word Domino’s in a search engine, the corporate response would show up nearly as often as the offending video.

Domino’s eventually posted a message from the CEO to the web and they claim it was posted 48 hours after the offending video was posted. Furthermore, they claim this was ground breaking. For the record, I’ve been a corporate Vice President and I council executives on a regular basis as a crisis communications expert. I can imagine what was going on inside the company. Many executives were on Easter vacation and they were attempting to tackle the problem by long distance. People were busy trying to prosecute the employees. People were busy wordsmithing messages; people were massaging words. That’s always such bull.

CNN Ireport gerard braud snowJust as I shot a 15 second video in my snowy front yard and posted it as an i-Report for CNN with less than an hour’s work, I could shoot a very brief on camera message that says,

“Hi, I’m Gerard Braud with Domino’s Pizza. There is a YouTube video circulating around with two people who identify themselves as Domino’s employees. In the video, they’re doing some pretty nasty stuff in the store. Chances are if you’re watching this, you’re looking for the other video. Let me just say that we’re in the process of identifying the people in the video so we can get to the bottom of this. Our focus now is to find out exactly what’s going on and how we can keep it from happening again. Stay tuned for an update.”

That’s it. That’s all that was needed. I don’t need to see a CEO. Some crisis communications trainers believe you should always send out “the top dog first.” I say bull. Usually the first person I push out the door as a spokesperson is a public relations spokesperson. I’ll send the CEO out later if the situation is severe enough, but in many cases a high level manager makes a good spokesperson, if he or she as been through proper media training.

Add to your to-do list the need to have a discussion with your team and your leadership to establish an understanding of who should be your first spokesperson in a crisis, and how many people you feel should undergo media training so they can serve as subject matter experts in the subsequent hour of your crisis.

I am a big believer that the CEO needs to be busy managing the crisis, especially in the early hours of the crisis, while others serve as the spokesperson. Only in the most extreme cases do I make the CEO the spokesperson, and even then, I generally roll out lower level experts first.

President Domino's Prank responseNow, back to the video from the Domino’s CEO. Yes, eventually it was posted. The CEO did a poor job of reading from cue cards off camera. No teleprompter, he made no eye contact with the camera and no, he isn’t someone who can ad lib well. Add to that, the statement was worded as an angry rant and by the time it was recorded, the CEO was an angry person. It was bad, it was too little and it was too late.

The Domino’s head of PR claims in an article published by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), that what Domino’s did was unprecedented and ground breaking. I disagree on several points. I’ve used YouTube videos many times before his crisis, and I’ll share some of those examples for you a bit later. I also live by the rule to communicate in one hour or less… not the Domino’s rule of one week or less. This isn’t rocket science, but it is about writing a crisis communications plan that works, using that plan, communicating in one hour or less, and involving leaders in crisis communications drills annually. Annual drills condition them to the idea that you must communicate quickly and that the CEO doesn’t have to be the primary spokesperson.

One final note on this topic – Every crisis communications plan that I write contains dozens of pre-written templates and your plan should too. Every item the leaders identify in the vulnerability assessment should have a companion, pre-written communications template. On a clear sunny day, when there is no anxiety and you have clarity of thought, you can write 75%-95% of what you would say on the day of the crisis. In the case of a restaurant chain, you would have a document that describes food tampering. When the crisis hits, you’re not looking at a blank piece of paper. Rather, you are looking at a well-worded document that has already been vetted by the leaders and the legal department. You are looking at the same type of template that your leaders would have seen and used when you conducted your crisis communications drill. Spokespeople would be looking at and reading from the very same document they used during their media training class. This system gives everyone the confidence needed to communicate quickly in a crisis.

With that, get your to-do list out. If your crisis communications plan does not contain dozens of pre-written statements for all of the possible crises you could face, then you need to create such templates. If your plan does have templates, you need to schedule a quarterly review to determine if new templates need to be written.

If you don’t know how to write such templates, contact me and we can schedule a writing retreat for your team so that you can quickly fill your plan with the templates you will need.


Social Media for Crisis Communications: Social Media, Crisis Communications and the Severity Level of Your Crisis

By Gerard Braud

Braud Crisis Plans_6113In every crisis communications plan that I write for a client, I have a page that establishes a severity level for the crisis. Traditionally the severity level is determined by injuries and/or fatalities, as well as the speed at which media cover the event, as well as how long the event remains in the news.

I believe all crisis communications plans must be living documents that are updated as communications styles and standards evolve. Several years ago I had to modify the severity levels of my plans to include the impact of social media and how quickly people would begin making postings about a company’s crisis and how long they would remain in the cycle of communications.

Add to your to-do list the need to modify how you categorize the severity of your crisis in your crisis communications plan.

In keeping with our last discussion about the generation gap and leadership gap as it relates to social media, this change to your crisis communications plan must be accompanied by training for all involved in the crisis process, including leaders, emergency responders and risk managers.

As we explore the generation gap, we must also look at a problem 180 degrees away on the opposite side of the spectrum. One of my great fears about social media is that many Gen X & Gen Y people involved in communications suffer from what I will describe as shiny new object syndrome. In other words, they are enamored with the tools and technology. They treat social media as though it is the greatest communications tool ever invented. They also think social media should supersede other forms of communications. I think that is a mistake.

Add to your to-do list an evaluation of yourself and those around you. Identify whether you or others suffer from shiny new object syndrome. Recognize the symptoms and use the rest of this document as therapy.

I’m especially harsh on Twitter because I think a big part of Twitter’s popularity comes from the fact that people who were not part of the original launch of MySpace and Facebook were afraid they would be left out or left behind. But according to PEW Research,

As of December 2012, only 16% of online adults say they use Twitter.

Once again, I’ll say that all social media tools are part of a mix. In certain crises, there are high value listeners on Twitter, including a lot of people in the media. A direct tweet to a reporter at just the right time can significantly impact the coverage a story gets.

Another fear I have is that the shiny new object syndrome affects younger communicators the most. Because they and all of their friends tend to use these tools 24/7, they perceive that the entire world is likewise using them. We might also note at this point that the mainstream media are trying very hard to use social media and that they too may be suffering from shiny new object syndrome.

If you pull back the curtain, the media are using these tools as a way to reach the younger audience that they have not been able to reach through conventional publications or TV news broadcast. For the mainstream media, Facebook and Twitter are marketing tools to capture a new, younger audience. The media are fully aware that their older, traditional audience, is not a full participant in social media.

One final Instagramthought about shiny new objects – remember MySpace? It was replaced by the shiny new Facebook. These days, as parents and grandparents use Facebook to keep tabs on their grandkids, young people are abandoning Facebook for Instagram. This means that social media continues to be a moving target creating challenges for communicators.

In our next article, we’ll look at crises caused by social media.

Social Media for Crisis Communications: Social Media for Crisis Communication and the Generation Gap

By Gerard Braud

IMG_2621As we discuss social media as a crisis communication tool that allows you to reach your core audience, this is a good time to explore what I will describe as both the leadership gap and the generation gap, that social media presents.

People in leadership positions, traditionally perform poorly in a crisis because it is an out of the ordinary event for which they are seldom trained. They don’t plan on a clear sunny day for the things that will affect them on their darkest day. They ignore the old adage, “If you fail to plan, plan to fail.”

You can rectify this in several ways. If you don’t have a crisis communications plan, include leaders in the process of conducting a vulnerability assessment that explores all the things that could go wrong where you work. As I mentioned in an earlier article, I facilitate many executive meetings throughout the year to conduct such vulnerability assessments. Leaders are often stunned when they see the long list of potential ways that “it” could hit the fan.

So add to your to-do list the need to conduct a vulnerability assessment in a facilitated setting with your leadership team.

If you already have a crisis communications plan, leaders should be trained in two ways; that would include annual media training and at least one crisis drill each year.

Just because someone holds a leadership title, doesn’t mean they have leadership qualities. Among the qualities I look for in someone who has leadership qualities is the ability to manage a crisis. The leadership gap is most often personified by decision paralysis. In other words, leaders are paralyzed by the fear that the decisions they will make will be the wrong decision, therefore they do nothing.

In the world of crisis communications, decision paralysis is personified by people in leadership positions not authorizing or allowing you to issue a statement in the first hour of a crisis. Often, lawyers advise them against saying anything for fear that they will say the wrong thing. My belief is that you must begin communicating something, even if it is only partial facts.

A crisis communications drill will get your leaders used to the speed at which a crisis unfolds and media training will give your spokespeople the confidence to stand before an audience of employees or the media, to let them know what is happening. I’ve seen some remarkable changes among the leaders whom I media train and the organizations for which I annually conduct crisis communications drills. If you fail to conduct media training and you fail to conduct crisis communications drills annually, you can expect your leadership team to fail you during your crisis. You can expect your leaders to fall back into decision paralysis. Think of it this way; a great athlete practices constantly and has great coaches. Well, your leaders likewise need to practice and have great coaches in order for them to perform well when they need to.

This brings us to the generation gap. We’ve already established that in the world of traditional media, leaders are slow to respond and issue statements. In the days of traditional media, when I was a television and newspaper reporter, if a crisis happened, it usually took us about one hour to arrive on the scene and begin reporting. But these days, any employee or any person on the street can communicate the crisis to the entire world in a matter of seconds. Instead of the 24 hour news cycle, we now have the 140 character news cycle. For those new to social media, 140 characters is the maximum message size allowed by Twitter.Twitter over capacity

Many leaders do not use social media. Many leaders still don’t know what social media is. Many leaders have no idea how fast messages get communicated by social media. Some leaders may have heard of the various outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter. But the reality is, they have no idea what these tools do and how they work.

I’m asked to give keynote speeches at many association and corporate conferences and a few years ago I introduced a new keynote called, Social Media When “It” Hits the Fan. The keynotes give me an opportunity to create a dialogue from the stage with leaders as I ask them what they know about social media. Here are my questions and the responses received.

• When asked how many use, 10% – 20% usually say yes.

• When asked how many use Facebook, fewer than 15% usually say yes.

• When asked how many have watched a video on, about 25% usually say yes.

• When asked how many have ever posted a video to, the response drops to 2%.

• When asked how many use Twitter, the response is usually 1-2%.

I then ask, how many have no idea what I just said and what I’m talking about, to which most hands go up and there is an uproarious laugh.

This represents both the leadership gap and the generation gap. While Gen X & Gen Y employees post comments, pictures and video to social media sites, often via their smart phones, older employees – especially leaders – are oblivious to the far reaching impact of these tools and trends.

In an earlier article in our series, I told you the best research on social media behavior comes from the experts at PEW Research.

As of December 2012:

  • 15% of online adults say they use Pinterest
  • 13% of online adults say they use Instagram
  • 6% of online adults say they use Tumblr
  • 67% of online adults say they use Facebook
  • 16% of online adults say they use Twitter
  • 20% of online adults say they use LinkedIn as of August 2012.

At this point, take out your to-do list and place on the list the need to do social media training; that is to say, you need to conduct programs to educate leaders on the impact of social media both on good days and in a crisis.

If you have a corporate meeting planned or if your leaders attend specific association meetings, you can always ask the meeting planner to invite me or you can call me with their contact information. That way, I can help you close the generation gap and solve the leadership gap if you would like my help.


Social Media for Crisis Communications: Why Social Media is Great in a Crisis for Search Engine Optimization

By, Gerard Braud

When a crisis happens, Google logo
people go to the Internet looking for information about your crisis.
If your company, government agency or non-profit organization is experiencing a crisis, you want a plan to control the flow of official information through effective crisis communication and a good Crisis Communications Plan. (See How to Write a Crisis Communications Plan.)

This means that when people search the Internet for information about your crisis, you hope they find your official webpage before reading the web pages of the media, bloggers and the web’s anonymous naysayers.

Social media can help you with this. But before we go further, you must make sure that in everything you write about your crisis, you call it what it is and not attempt to disguise it with PR-BS or sanitized terms concocted by your CEO or lawyers.

A fire is a fire; it isn’t the “event of warmth that caused the facility to no longer exist,” or some other crazy phrase someone invents. A shooting is a shooting; it isn’t the “incident that involved a metallic projectile expelled from a metal tube,” or some other nonsense. You may laugh, but in my business, I see it every day.

When writing effective messages for crisis communications, you must put on your Google hat. In other words, when someone does a search on Google for information about your crisis, which words are they going to type into their search engine? Those are the words you need to be using in all of your postings to official websites and to your official social media channels.

Google and the other search engines use complicated, secretive algorithms to make up what we know as search engine optimization (SEO). This is what allows someone to type a word into the search engine and get information on that topic. And while the major search engines keep changing their algorithms to prevent you from outright manipulation of the search engines, there are certain things we know about how they work and how you can increase the likelihood of ranking high in a search during your crisis.

Here are five great things to know about SEO in a Crisis.

1) It starts by using the right words. As mentioned above, call the event what it is and don’t use sanitized terms. Next, use those words in the title of your website post, as well as in the opening sentence of your online news releases. Repeat the phrase several times throughout everything you write.

For some, this immediately raises the question: Are you breaking the old PR rule that you should never repeat the negative?

The answer is that you can straddle the fence. You can call the event, “Shooting at XYX Company This Morning.” That is what it is and it is what people will call it. You are, however, avoiding super negative phrases, such as, “The Horrific Tragic Shooting that has Brought XYZ Company to its Knees.”

Some will ask, should you avoid using words like crisis or tragedy? Are you better off calling it an incident? That is really a decision that should preliminarily be made while writing your Crisis Communications Plan and the various communications documents that will live in the addendum of the plan. (For more on this, review our previous articles on How to Write a Crisis Communications Plan.) If you have that discussion on a clear sunny day, you can likely pick the best word, then reconsider it once more on the day of the event.

A recent case in point is the Sandy Hook Elementary Tragedy in which 26 people were shot and killed, most of whom were children. This is indeed tragic. A communicator, CEO, or lawyer would be foolish to attempt to sanitize this, as though calling this “an unfortunate event” would or could minimize the impact of the truth.

Let a compassionate heart and common sense be your guide.

2) The search engines love deep sites. A deep site is one that has an abundance of content, which most corporate sites do. However, a deep site that is updated more frequently, is perceived by the search engines to be of higher value. Many corporate sites are static sites with sales and marketing information, with very few updates.

This means that during your crisis, you are competing with deep sites from the news media, which unlike your corporate site, are updated constantly with breaking news.

This means that your official site, the host of your official information, is competing with the news media to be ranked highest when someone tries to get information about our crisis.

How do you compete with them for SEO?

One secret is to write and blog frequently. Blog updates that are part of your official corporate site are the best way to make your already deep site appear to be current, with new information on a regular basis.

Your corporate newsroom should be formatted as a blog site, which is perceived by the search engines, as high value, new information.

This brings us to tip number 3

3) Search engines love Word Press blog sites. I can’t tell you why, but it is true, especially if you have an advanced template with extra code that lets the search engines know you’ve added new content and used the right words.

Most corporate, non-profit and government websites are built with HTML or some proprietary template designed to provide security and firewall protection. But your needs as a communicator may be competing with IT’s need for security.

Together, you’ll need to work out a compromise. Many Word Press templates have advanced security features that satisfy your IT department.

Additionally, Word Press is fast and easy to use. It doesn’t require help from IT or a web designer. It is the ultimate content management system. You can easily add images, audio and videos, as well as links. Plus, if you have followed my earlier advice to create a huge addendum of pre-written crisis statements, these templates can be placed in Word Press on a clear sunny day and saved as unpublished pages. Essentially, this becomes your dark site. Just make sure the people who have access to the site are training not to accidentally post a dark page.

4) YouTube videos should be a high priority for you during a crisis, because when it comes to search engines, YouTube is now second, only to Google.

Throughout these articles I rave about YouTube, and this is just one more reason. Of course, this requires you to properly name each video you post, using the words that people will put into the search engine. Just as we discussed earlier, you must name the video using the same key words that people are searching for and not attempt to sanitize the words.

I especially like the way the iPad and iPhone allows you to shoot a short video and upload it directly to YouTube. I also like the way YouTube allows you to directly send a message to Twitter that says you have a new video for the world to see.

5) SEO also increases for your primary website when you add links to that site via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and your other social media channels.

The Internet is indeed a web and it tracks all paths that lead to other paths.

Keep in mind, stronger SEO evolves when you use social media on a regular basis with regular links to your primary website, and especially when those links go to your blog or newsroom, that you update on a regular basis.

One final note about your official webpage. It is seldom necessary to take down your company’s primary web page during a crisis. During your vulnerability assessment, when writing your Crisis Communications Plan, you should evaluate when that should happen, if ever.

HD FacebookOne thing you should add to your primary website, so it is seen every day on your homepage is a big, easy to find button that says, “Latest News.” You should place this in the upper right corner, in or near the header of the homepage. You’ll need to discuss this with your web designer to make it look good, without distracting from your banding. However, I really hate when I have to look for a tiny link or go through a pull down menu in order to find your newsroom, to get the latest information when a crisis is unfolding.

A button that says “Latest News” can take your visitors directly to your newsroom on a clear sunny day, and serve as a one-click button that takes them to your newsroom on your darkest day. If visitors can get to your newsroom in a single click, you make it less likely that you ever need to take down your homepage. This is especially important if your homepage is a commerce site and commerce is still required to keep the company alive, while you deal with the crisis at hand.

So, your to-do list today is a long one. Determine how you will accomplish all of the tasks I’ve outline for you here today. If you have questions, please call me at 985-624-9976.



Social Media for Crisis Communications: Crisis Communications and Social Media When You are a Little Part of a Big Story

By, Gerard Braud

Sometimes your company, government agency or non-profit organization experiences a Social Media Gerard Braudcrisis that is isolated just to your organization. Sometimes, your organization is part of a much bigger crisis, and while you have serious crisis issues to communicate, you are not the biggest part of the story.

Social media is a terrific way to communicate to your core audiences when you are a small part of a much bigger story. This is especially true in events such as a widespread power outage, a pandemic, or a natural disaster.

When Super Storm Sandy hit New Jersey and New York in late October 2012, there was both the big crisis of the storm, as well as all of the smaller crises of each community, each government agency, each non-profit organization and every company in the region.

Based on article seven about building social media relationships before a crisis, article eight about the media listening to social media during a crisis and article nine about using technology to broadcast live during a crisis, you have the pieces you need to understand how you can get both media attention and the attention of your core audience during a crisis.

Out of all of the times to use social media during a crisis, this tops the list.

First you begin by making sure your organization has created your basic social media channels, including the big three, YouTube, Facebook & Twitter. Many of you reading this will admit that your organizations do not currently have these channels because you don’t know if they would benefit your organization and you haven’t decided how you might monetize social media.

Well, if you want to use them in a crisis, you need to establish them on a clear sunny day.

Admittedly, you may not have a lot to say on a normal day and you may not get a lot of followers on a normal day. But during a crisis, especially a natural disaster, people can easily access the big three social media channels through their smart phones.

Hurricane Isaac Gerard Braud CNNNext, make sure you add your CNN i-Report channel. If your local media requires you to pre-register to post photos and videos to their sites, pre-register there as well.

Again, especially prior to a predictable weather crisis, you have the ability to more aggressively begin managing the expectations of your core audience. You can use your conventional communications channels to let them know that during the event, you will be doing frequent updates through YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. People who may never use these sites to connect with you on clear sunny day, will use them during the crisis.

You will also get the power of people sharing key links.

If, during the crisis, the media are spread thin and unable to give coverage to your situation, you can circumvent the media and take your message directly to the people who need to hear it the most.

Here is an example: Imagine you are a small rural town on the Jersey Shore during Super Storm Sandy. While the media are showing images of downtown New York or the Atlantic City Boardwalk, you could have a team of people out with smart phones or iPads posting pictures of damaged houses. The team could post the address of the house, so an evacuated homeowner can quickly learn the status of not only their town, but their specific home.

Imagine riding down the street and shooting a short video of one city block, as I’ve done in this video from Rockaway, New York, in an area damaged by Sandy. If evacuations were still underway, residents of this street could all watch this video on YouTube to get a preliminary assessment of their home and the challenge they face ahead.

In my own personal situation following Hurricane Katrina, it was nearly impossible to get information about my small town of Mandeville, LA, because all of the news coverage was about the flooding in New Orleans. It was days before I was able to reach someone who was able to drive down my street and assess my home. They were able to tell me that I had 25 fallen trees, but that none had fallen directly on my house. They were able to tell me that the overhead electrical wires to my home were down and that my meter pan had been ripped off of the side of my house. With that knowledge, I knew to buy all of the necessary parts I needed to repair my electrical system while I was still in my safe evacuation zone, since no stores were open and those electrical parts would not be available once I returned to Mandeville.

If that scenario happened today and my town had channels on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, people could be posting photos and videos on a block by block basis. That would be effective crisis communications. Keep in mind, this required a dedicated team of people to manage the crisis communications. This is not necessarily something that will be done by the police or other emergency responders, although it could be done by them with planning on a clear, sunny day.

One other benefit of social media is that it is fast to use, so you may be able to do more frequent, faster updates than you could on your own corporate website.

winter storm cleonI must add, social media is also a great tool for managing the expectations of your audience. For example, an electric company can be communicating how long power will be out and how customers should deal with their loss of creature comforts. Con Edison Power used their social media channels effectively following Super Storm Sandy.

A huge problem, however, with electric companies, is that they want to brag about how many homes have been reconnected after a storm. The backlash comes when the few without power take to social media to bash the electric company for not getting power to their home.

On your to-do list today is to set up your social media channels, if you don’t already have them established. If you have them established, make sure your public relations team has access to them. Often, social media sites are run by the marketing team, which may have a much different goal than the PR team… and the marketing team often maintains tight control over the login and passwords.

Tomorrow, we’ll discuss how to achieve great search engine optimization in a crisis by using social media.





Social Media for Crisis Communications: Combining Technology & Social Media for Crisis Communication

By Gerard Braud

With no electricity for 5 days Social Media Gerard Braudand 6 feet of water from Hurricane Isaac surrounding my house on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans, I became the go-to correspondent for CNN & The Weather Channel. Using only my iPhone, Skype and 3G, I was able to send reports first to YouTube and CNN’s iReport, then use social media, text messaging and e-mails to get noticed by the networks, which eventually led to an incredible number of live reports.

Hurricane Isaac came ashore on August 28, 2012. The Weather Channel and CNN had dispatched their correspondent to the banks of the Mississippi River in downtown New Orleans, tethered to $65,000 HD cameras and a half-million dollar satellite trucks. Meanwhile, the anchors back in the studio were conducting a series of phone interviews with Emergency Managers and Public Information Officers (PIOs) in the area.

So why is it, with the wealth of official knowledge available, the networks suddenly cut away during storm coverage to interview a seemingly random resident 30 miles away, standing in rising flood waters at his home along Lake Pontchartrain in Mandeville, Louisiana?

The answer? Because I’m the resident, I’m in rising floodwaters, and I have an iPhone with Skype. In short, they picked me because I can offer them great visuals, first hand information, and the technology to broadcast to the world from my front porch.

The network’s reporters have much better equipment and the PIOs have official information on the phone, but the resident has added the much needed sex appeal this story has been missing; the resident offers better television coverage than any of the network’s other options.

In any crisis you face, you could easily be upstaged by an eyewitness unless you can be better than they are. That’s why I’ve been teaching workshops on this system to many of my clients and at conferences for many associations.

Gerard Braud Media Training and Crisis Communication with IPad IPhoneIn the meantime, view a quick video lesson on how to effectively communicate in a crisis using your iPhone, iPad or other smartphone and smart tablet technology.

Times are changing and both spokespeople and media trainers need to take action now to prepare for the interview of the future. I suspect we are quickly approaching the day when the media will stop sending news crews out to interview you in person. Instead, they will expect you to do interviews on the spur of the moment, especially from the scenes of unfolding, highly visual crises.

This means you should take these 3 steps:

1) Get the right technology.

2) Get training on how to use the new technology.

3) Schedule a customized Media Training class to help you better answer questions from the news anchors during your interview while you are simultaneously (and flawlessly) operating the technology.

Taking one step without the others is dangerous. You must do all three because operating and holding the technology while being a spokesperson is a daunting, multitasking event that goes beyond anything you have done before. There is no camera crew. You are the camera crew. There is no producer. You are the producer. This isn’t Skype from your stationary desktop computer. This is Skype while you walk, talk and hold your i-Pad, i-Phone (or similar smart device). This isn’t FaceTime with your mother in which she doesn’t care how you are framed on camera. This is network news in which we clearly need to see you and see what is in the background.

What spokespeople and public relations professionals will soon discover is that:

a) The media will begin expecting you to be ready to do an i-Interview

b) If you are not prepared, they will skip over your official information and go get it from an eye witness with technology who is on the scene.

Furthermore, your readiness gives you an upper hand when you can show and tell the media something they cannot get from a lesser source.

Here’s what you need to know to get started:


iPhones, iPads and laptops, with a built in video camera, top the list of the technology you need. Many smart device will do, provided you can see yourself on camera. This feature is missing from early models of smart phones.

Using these tools for a live interview means you need to be connected to the Internet and you need the free Skype application available at Depending upon where you are and whether you have electricity, you can use Skype via Wi-Fi or your G3/G4 phone signal.

Many of you are Skype veterans, but if you’ve never used it, Skype works essentially like a telephone call from your computer or smart device, except it allows your voice call to become a video call through the device’s built in camera. A network producer will call you via your Skype address, you answer, switch on the video feature and you are ready for your live broadcast.

Wi-Fi, Skype and iPads can be temperamental. Occasionally the signal will freeze while you are live on the air.

Good audio is also important. When the wind started howling and drowning out the voices of the anchors, I was forced to switch to my laptop, with a built in web cam and USB Skype headphones with an attached microphone. I could hear them better and they could hear me better.

Periodically between the live interviews, I used my iPhone and iPad to take video of the flooding. I then used the Internet to upload the raw footage, making me a triple threat: I had great video; I had a great location; and I had the technology and information to communicate effectively at a critical time.

Technology Training

There are two parts to the technology training.

Part one is learning which keys to push and what applications to use.

Part two is having the talent to manage the technology, while holding the technology and conducting an intelligent interview with the news anchors. This can be tricky.

You have no margin for error when you are both managing the technology and the interview on live television. For that reason you need to practice using the equipment, while holding it yourself, while talking.

The technology training needs to also include how to shoot additional video at the scenes of your event. That means learning how to hold your camera phone or iPad perfectly still, as well as knowing when to “pan” or turn the camera to enhance the video that you provide to the network. These days, the media will use even well composed still photos from a smart phone. While pictures and videos from the untrained eyewitness are often of poor quality, you have the ability to offer more compelling images that better tell the story.

Media Training

Annual Media Training should be standard operating procedure for every spokesperson. Talking to the media is a skill much like playing sports; you must practice on a regular basis and increase the intensity each time in order to master it.

When you combine it with technology training, you will learn how to hold the iPad, iPhone or laptop at the proper distance so your arms don’t show. Next, you need to learn how to
“frame the shot” so the television network sees both you and what is going on behind you. Then, you need to learn where to look, since the web cam on these devices usually tends to be off to one side or the top or bottom. Looking good goes hand in hand with looking intelligent and sounding intelligent. Likewise, saying what is most important upfront is critical, because your live shot will likely last only 90 seconds.

In the world of crisis communications, expect live interviews on the scene via Skype to become the norm. Soon you will see television stations interviewing police officers from crime scenes and first responders being interviewed from the scene of disasters.

But this technology shouldn’t stop with just the media. It also lets you post videos and interviews to YouTube, Facebook and your own website, so your public, your employees, and the media all have access to the best, up-to-date information.

Certainly, during a crisis, powerful communications before the crisis and rapid communications during the crisis has the ability to move people out of harm’s way. But that life saving critical communications depends upon you learning to do your part.

Is the Media Ready

The media are actually slow in evolving toward i-Interviews. Likewise, many corporate spokespeople are also still fighting to get their IT departments to authorize i-Pads and similar smart technology.

As media revenues continue to fall and as layoffs continue among reporters and photographers, i-Interviews will be the media’s low cost alternative. The question is, will you be ready for the interview of the future?

Add to your to-do list the need to acquire the technology and get the training. Please call me if you would like me to be your in-house trainer or to present a training program for an upcoming conference.

Social Media for Crisis Communications: The Social Media Listening Post in Crisis Communication

By Gerard Braud


Let’s look at several case studies to understand the impact of social media when “it” hits the fan.

Social media allows us to communicate in a crisis; social media fails on us during a crisis; social media can cause a crisis.

Where do we start? Think of social media first as a place to Listen and not to talk. Look in the mirror. You will notice the good Lord gave you 2 ears and one mouth. You should use them in that proportion.

Now let us look at social media case studies of crises that involved natural disasters. In the case of Haiti, immediately following the January 2010 earthquake, Twitter was providing a platform for discussions. Facebook was providing a social media channel for discussions that are more in depth. But the conversations were incomplete because many of the people closest to the situation could not talk with us or receive our messages because they were without electricity. Their cell phone batteries were dead and the cell phones that had power were competing for limited band width and likely unable to get a signal. This should be a big red flag that social media and electronic communications have their limitations in many crises.

The Fukushima disaster and Japanese tsunami in March 2011 was another event that unfolded on social media. Some people claimed they learned about the actual earthquake on Twitter, before the shock waves even reached them. Whether this is true or another internet myth, the reality is it could have happened and could happen for other events in the future.

One social media trap is that verifying information is often difficult. It is not wise to repeat unverified sources, even though people on social media do it all the time. This means our listening requires extra attention. In the case of Twitter, we can sort our listening by hash tags by simply following a trending word with the # sign in front of it. Among the great dangers on Twitter is when wrong information is re-tweeted. On Twitter you will often see the letters “RT” before a message, signifying it has been re-tweeted by followers of the original message.

And while social media allows you to listen, often technology fails you, preventing you from both listening and talking.

Twitter, again, is constantly vulnerable to overload. Have you ever tried to use Twitter, Twitter over capacityonly to get a screen that displays a giant whale being lifted by tiny birds? The message says Twitter has exceeded its capacity.

Think about it? In a crisis, internet and telephone use goes up exponentially. At the time you need it most, it may fail you, impeding your ability to listen as well as talk. This is a warning sign that says your Crisis Communications Plan should not be built with a heavy foundation of social media. Your plan should be more heavily rooted in more traditional communications means, with a component of social media as a lower priority option, based on where technology stands today in 2013. This may change in the future, and you must be vigilant to stay abreast of trends and technology so you can rethink this as needed in the future.

To prove the point of technology’s weakness and failure, examine how often it fails not in a crisis, but in a simple, regional moment of joy. When my hometown New Orleans Saints football team won the NFC Championship on January 24, 2010, all cell phone and land based phone lines in New Orleans and our region were jammed and calls could not be made. Even text messages could not go through. This lasted for nearly one hour after the end of the game. For that reason, you should never put all of your eggs in one basket. This is a clear example that if you live by technology you will die by technology. In the world of crisis communications you may have many tools at your disposal, but you must have a Plan B and a Plan C. If one set of tools fail, what can you use next?

You, as a professional communicator, representing a company, government agency or not-for-profit organization, must consider carefully how much trust you want to put into social media as a part of your crisis communications tool box.

You must also be aware that your potential opponents may be out maneuvering and out communicating you, using these same tools, in certain types or crisis events.

Egypt WaelGhonim2In 2009 we saw a different type of crisis and crisis communication as the Arab Spring
unfolded. The initial government opposition in Egypt started on Facebook. As outrage
spread on Facebook, it eventually spilled into the streets as protests. Eventually in Egypt and other countries, social media played a major role as protesters in the Middle East were using Twitter to communicate where police attacks were taking place and twitter WaelGhonimwhere protesters could find safe houses during street riots. For the most part, the government leaders were not savvy enough to understand the power of social media. Private Facebook postings to
friends and direct tweets to colleagues gave protestors a clear communications advantage as this crisis unfolded. Eventually, some of the open chatter of protesters on Twitter allowed their opponents, the
government, to listen in on the conversation to eavesdrop.

And while the protesters were technically using Twitter as a communications tool, their needs are likely very different than the communications needs of your company.

As we stop for today, add to your to-do list the need to set aside 10 minutes to evaluate how you might use social media to listen during certain types of crises. Also, evaluate to what degree you might use it as an outbound communications tool to talk during a crisis.


Social Media for Crisis Communications: Social Media Relationships Before Your Crisis

By Gerard Braudfacebook-like-button

In considering social media and crisis communication, let’s all agree that social media may cause your actual crisis. Other times, your crisis may be of your own making and social media then amplifies the crisis because of the chatter created in cyber space.

Social media at its worse, clusters mean, anonymous people saying unkind things about your issues and your employer. You have no control over their public conversation. In better situations, fans might say nice things.

In the best situation, social media is about relationships. It is a space and a collection of tools that cluster people with whom you wish to listen to and talk with. It clusters people who want to hear what you say.

I’m not a fan of many aspects about social media because effective crisis communication involves controlling the message and the messenger. However, if I want to at least influence the conversation, the message and the messengers, it is more easily done through friends and supporters than through those anonymous mean people. As with much of what I advocate, those friendly relationships must evolve on a clear sunny day, if you wish to have that support on your darkest day.

Consider that social media is the ultimate personification of 6 degrees of separation. The people you have relationships with have other relationships you don’t know about. That means they are repeating things to friends of friends of friends, creating a circle of conversations and influence. This frightens me because there is less control over the message and the messenger. Yet, it creates hope for me because if a good relationship is built on a clear sunny day, it produces people who like your organization. As a result, they will be more likely to support you in tough times. Essentially, people you have a relationship with have the ability to become your brand ambassadors.

Let’s stop our conversation here today and add something to your to-do list. How might you use social media to create meaningful and sincere relationships with members of your core audiences?

Tomorrow we’ll look at some case studies and struggles in the world of social media and crisis communications.