Six tips for crisis tweeting

Social media is an essential part of any crisis communication planning, both as a crisis communications tool and a way to keep up with public opinion. Here are six tips for organisations of all sizes.

1. Get the basics right first

Twitter can be valuable, but it’s more important to get the basics of crisis management right first. When a crisis hits, assemble your crisis team, make an assessment of the situation, identify spokespeople and ensure you have an effective internal communications system for your employees. Identify stakeholders, as well as your key messages and how you will communicate them. Use Twitter as one part of the overall communications mix.

2. Own the message

A crisis gives you some influence, as the media, the public and your stakeholders will come to you to find out what’s going on. Grab the opportunity to own the message. If you don’t communicate with your audiences, someone else will fill the vacuum. During the grounding of the cargo ship Rena in 2011, fake news websites and social media accounts sprang up to fill the communication void. These fake sources often promoted old news and story bias. Maritime NZ solved the problem by tweeting more. As one of the organisations charged with the Rena response, people wanted information direct from the source.

The lesson: communicate on Twitter when you can. Grab the best information and share it in a compelling way. Let people know what’s happening.

3. Know your resources

The key to being effective on Twitter is knowing what resources you can share (information, photos, videos, etc). There are three types of content that you can share:

Exclusive information – material you have available to share that no one else knows. Media releases can be a great place to find this information as they will already have been signed off, which means you can post the information again without needing a separate sign-off process.

Photos – the internet is a visual medium. Powerful images can tell your story and will be shared by your audience.

Videos – another popular form of content. Keep them short (1-2 minutes max) to match people’s attention spans.

On Twitter, hashtags – words used to classify tweets – form organically. Usually the selection is dictated by conciseness. Don’t waste time and effort trying to establish new hashtags; use the ones that already exist.

4. Find out what’s being said about you

Twitter lets you have your finger on the pulse of public opinion. Set up keyword alerts using TweetDeck and assign a member of your team to monitor what’s being said. You can use the information you glean to correct misinformation, identify information gaps and gauge public sentiment.

The Boston Police Department was praised for its use of Twitter following the 2013 marathon bombing to provide updates, request information from the public and correct misinformation.

5. Decide whether to engage

People will look at your Twitter account and see if you are responding to questions. There are two ways to do this: reply to everyone or reply to no one. If you are fielding lots of queries about a particular issue, you can post a tweet that addresses them all, rather than replying to each person individually. Alternatively, you could choose one tweet and reply to it, adding a full stop before the person’s @username so your tweet is seen by all your followers.

6. Take the long-term view

In a crisis, you can build relationships with the media, the public and key stakeholders that will serve you beyond the crisis. Provide value and deliver information people can trust, and people will continue to follow you.