Crisis Management in an Age of Social Media

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In an age when instant communication, entertainment and information have become an expectation as much as a necessity, more organizations are turning to social media to manage information during crisis situations. With the proliferation of smart phones, tablets, internet devices and social media platforms, there is both opportunity and demand for organizations to share “real time” information with these users.

Following the devastation of Hurricane Irene in 2011, New York City (NYC) recognized the need for more timely and interpersonal means of sharing information with its populace during a crisis. A task force was formed to develop a greater social media presence to reach the public with more timely and accurate information in order to help them better prepare for, respond to and recover from future crises. Social media networks proved their worth the following year when they effectively and quickly conveyed information and reduced misinformation during Superstorm Sandy and its aftermath.

The lessons learned by NYC can be applied by a variety of organizations seeking to use social media networks to inform people in times of crisis. Organizations cannot wait until a crisis is upon them to begin developing their social media networks and attracting followers. Staying informed of the latest social media trends and platforms and understanding how they are used is essential in effectively reaching the largest audience. Once the platforms are understood, accurate and frequent posts are necessary to build and maintain a following. Partnering with other credible organizations in information sharing through cross-posting and re-tweeting will also help increase visibility and build trust.

Once a crisis begins, misinformation must also be managed. Anticipate a flood of conflicting reports, rumors and false reports that will need to be verified and addressed. Also, use the networks to solicit help and direct resources where needed. Social media is as much a communication tool as a catalyst for action and in a crisis situation it can be a powerful tool for directing people.

Social media may not replace conventional news platforms and communication networks, but there is certainly a demand for these platforms to provide instant information during situations in which events are changing quickly and, often, unpredictably. In a crisis, it can mean the difference between life and death.

Related Links:

NFPA Journal - Are you prepared

Government Technology - How Sandy Changed Social Media Strategies in New York City

CBS News - Social media a news source and tool during superstorm sandy

E-mail Greg at ghart@rcmd.com