Social Media for Crisis Communications: Are You a Social Media Hypocrite?

By, Gerard Braud

GeismarAs we talk about social media for crisis communication, we have to consider whether your audience uses social media and how they use it. But before we talk about them, we should talk about you and your personal social media habits.

Some companies have no Facebook page, no Twitter, and no YouTube channel. Some companies have no social media. Some companies have set up social media pages, but use them sparingly or not at all. Some companies aggressively post to one or more social media channels.

Let’s cut to the chase, especially for companies aggressively posting to social media. On a clear sunny day, when there is no crisis at hand, are you a social media hypocrite? Do you — or someone on your communications team — sit in your office each day updating your corporate social media sites expecting your audiences to follow you, when in fact you don’t personally follow any other companies?

At home, on your personal Facebook, Twitter or YouTube sites, do you personally follow your bank on social media? Do you follow your hospital? Do you follow your oil company?

While teaching my Social Media When “It” Hits the Fan workshop recently to a state-wide medical association, the audience was initially appalled that asked if they were social media hypocrites. They then realized they were. Each has spent countless hours developing Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube for their hospitals. Some had branched out into Pinterest and Instagram. Yet on reflection, they realized that they spend a lot of time posting information for their corporate social media accounts, with the belief their audiences and customers would read it, when in fact they didn’t follow their bank, doctor, oil company, etc. They quickly realized that they were social media hypocrites. Many realized that they were social media and public relations sheep, setting up social media accounts because some so-called social media expert said that every company needs to be on social media or you will be left behind.

InstagramNext, we should talk about the age and social media habits of your audience to determine if social media is the right fit for your organization on a clear sunny day when there is no crisis, because this will affect whether you can reach them during a crisis.

It has been my experience that there is a large generational divide between those who use it and those who don’t, which we will address in greater detail later. The age and social media habits of your audience will help you decide when and if social media needs to be part of your crisis communication strategy. People in their mid-20’s pioneered social media behavior and made Facebook popular. Now, as some grandparents join Facebook to keep track of their grandkids, younger participants are leaving because Facebook isn’t as cool anymore.

We can say, with a degree of safety, that people under 35 are more active than those who are older. So as you decide if social media is right for you, keep this in mind. 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.

Before further exploring the age and habits of your audiences, we all need to agree on a few things about crisis communications and crisis communication plans.

When “it” hits the fan, you have to consider, what does your audience need to know and how do you want them to behave? What is it that you want them to do? Perhaps you need to evacuate a community before a hurricane or issue advisories to your customers and employees before a bad weather event. Sometimes you need to communicate safety information in the throes of a crisis. Many times you may be communicating with your audiences because of an ugly rumor or the exposure of a scandal.

Your assignment now is to stop here for the day and to make a list. First revisit yesterday’s list to identify your potential audiences by age and their likelihood of using social media. Second on the list is to identify the types of crises that your company or organization may face. Third on the list is to assess how you want your audiences to behave in various crises. Based on what you place on this list, we can better determine what communications channels are the right fit in each type of situation. Allow yourself 15-30 minutes to evaluate these questions.

Tomorrow, we’ll examine what a great Crisis Communication Plan should be, so that we can determine the best way to incorporate social media into your strategy for effective communications.


Social Media for Crisis Communications: Effective Communications for Critical Times (Like When “It” Hits the Fan)

By Gerard Braud (Jared Bro)

Social Media Gerard Braud

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It is a challenge for public relations and crisis communication. In every workshop I teach, people ask, “How should a public relations team, company, non-profit or government agency best use social media for crisis communication?” They ask it from New Orleans to New York and everywhere in between.

I respond by asking, “When ‘it’ hits the fan, and you need good crisis communications, is social media right for the company or organization you work for?”

In the nearly 2 dozen blog entries I will offer you in March, I’ll give you quick observations each day. Your job will be discernment. Your assignment is to discern what is right for you, your PR team, your company or organization, and your audiences.

You are invited back each day to spend a few quick minutes absorbing the perspective shared here, then decide what is the RIGHT fit. (Good ‘ol option B is to just pick up the phone and call me at 985-624-9976 and we’ll talk it out now.)

Too often public relations communicators are like sheep in the social media world, following the flock, taking the advice of consultants who tell you that you MUST use social media. I say bull! I’d rather see you as a lone wolf charting your own course of action than to see you as a sheep.

Make no secret about it, I have a love – hate relationship with social media. In certain situations it is the right fit and in certain situations it is a wrong fit.

But before we get into the specifics of social media, we need to agree upon the rules of engagement “When ‘It’ Hits the Fan.” As we go through the various steps we’re going to outline for you, I’m going to give you a specific list of action items to place on your to-do list.

First, let’s agree that in a crisis, the organization you work for has an obligation to talk with several key audiences, which include employees, the media and your other stakeholders, which could be your community, families of employees, government leaders, etc. If you work for a school, the audience extends to students and parents. If you work for a hospital, the audience extends to patients and their families. A retail company needs to talk with customers. A non-profit organization needs to talk to contributors. Each type of company or organization has a unique set of audiences.

That being said, today’s assignment is for you to make a clear list of audiences you must communicate with in various types of crises, so you can decide how you can best reach them and how they want to get information.

Put this on your to-do list as step one… make a list of audiences, how to reach them, and how they want to be reached. Set aside 5-15 minutes and do this right now.

Tomorrow we’ll talk more in-depth about your audiences and whether social media is an effective way to communicate with them in a crisis.