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.


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

Click image to watch video

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.