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.