How to Use Social Media During a Crisis

As the threats of hurricane season, flooding and strong weather continue into the summer, how prepared is your agency to provide your clients with live updates during a crisis?

In a recent webinar, Social Media and Disaster Recovery, Agility Recovery discussed the tactics and strategies necessary to effectively keep clients up to date during a disaster. Social media channels are a quick, efficient and inexpensive way to communicate to an incredibly large and diverse audience—and can improve the bottom line of your agency you use it correctly.

But implementing a crisis communication strategy isn’t worthwhile unless your agency already has a solid foundation of social media followers.

“Build your presence now, nurture it, grow it and become a subject matter expert,” said Scott Teel, education and marketing director of Agility Recovery. “Without that presence and without that being established, any effort you put forth during the next crisis will be a waste of time.”

Providing information and guidance to your customers during a disaster means you must “drive that engagement before, during and after the event to make sure this particular type of communication medium makes a difference,” Teel said.

Think of social media as a community: Building your engagement will lead to a place of influence and authority within that group. “You’ll become a trusted voice—an advisor of sorts—and when it comes time to provide that potentially life-saving or information during a crisis, you’re in a very strong position to do so and your audience is already there,” Teel said.

Sounds like the perfect role for an independent agent. But how do you reach that point? It’s an ongoing effort that takes strategy.

“Especially with Twitter, people are turning to that resource for timely, relevant, almost immediate information from the scene of the incident or from the region where this particular event, crisis or disaster is occurring,” Teel said—meaning your agency’s real-time social media communication needs an action plan.

To start, keep a few general guidelines in mind, including providing only critical information and sharing direct information with an action item so consumers can make informed decisions. Ask yourself, “What is important to your audience who is being affected by this real-time crisis?” Respect the gravity of the situation at hand in terms of both the content and tone of voice in your posts, and understand that social media is a two-way communication tool. Being responsive and facilitating conversations goes a long way.

After establishing these guidelines and a workflow process, here are a few dos and don’ts from Agility:

  • Avoid canned responses. Every disaster is local and different, so take the time to find out more about the situation.
  • Follow up on replies, answer any questions and identify any trends. Your customers expect it. And while you may not know the answer, make sure you follow up with the individual and post the answer publically—it could be valuable to the larger audience.
  • Don’t post anything that looks overly speculative. Date and timestamp posts if they are time sensitive and always ensure content is current and accurate.
  • Use hashtags. It enables those searching your organization or the event to easily find and sort available information and stay a part of the conversation.
  • Be careful of re-posting or retweeting content from other organizations, especially with minute-by-minute developments. If you make a mistake, it could go viral. Keep the most accurate information out there that you can.
  • Refer to other authorities and share tools and resources. You can pick up more followers by making it easier for your followers to repost what you provide.
  • Consider all your different audiences: employees, stakeholders, clients, community, media and competitors. Craft your messages carefully and keep in mind that different audiences will see your communications.

In the fast-paced and quickly changing environment of both social platforms and large-scale disasters, Teel said it’s crucial to mitigate any rumors or assumptions, avoid misinformation and stay wary of promises you can’t deliver. The most vital practice Agility stresses: consistent communication no matter the medium. “Set proper expectations with your audience as to when you’ll have more information and updates on your organizations status,” Teel advised.

Even if nothing has changed, giving your followers a sense of security is key. “As a basic element of social media communications, it’s better to say something rather than be completely silent following a disruption,” Teel said.

Morgan Smith is IA assistant editor.