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.