Twitter is the most efficient way to relay important and sometimes sensitive information to your audience during a critical time. By only allowing 140 characters or less and the use of hashtags, Twitter messages are to the point and can easily be filtered by users searching for a specific topic or incident.
When breaking news hits a company or community, the C suite, local authorities and even eye witnesses should be on the social media scene immediately. Twitter lets its users post ongoing messages to update their audience minute by minute during a given incident. This information should be shared immediately as developments unravel, with conversation taking place in between.
The use of hashtags are an important part of the Twitter crisis management equation. When an incident or crisis does occur, Twitter users often search for specific hashtags to find out what’s going on. Labeling your crisis with a simple hashtag filters all tweets containing that tag on to a single feed so users are able to receive updates by the second. This also allows followers to interact and have conversations about the incident while it is ongoing.
A great example of proper Twitter use was by the Howard County Police Department (HCPD) during the tragic Columbia Mall shooting on January 25, 2014. The department tweeted almost immediately after the shots were fired with this, “There has been a shooting incident at the Columbia mall. No additional details yet. PIO en route. Will update ASAP.” Right there, as a twitter user following the developing story, I am informed of the shots fired, I know authorities are responding to the scene, and I’m now going to follow this page as I know updates from HCPD’s Twitter handle are on the way. Sure enough, another tweet shortly after read, “Three people confirmed dead at Columbia Mall. Victims unknown at this time.” The department then created the hashtag #ColumbiaMall, allowing information regarding the incident to be filtered and easily accessible to the Twitter community. The department did an excellent job throughout the day, and the days following the incident, with numerous tweets, one reading “Scene secure.” Another announced that five people who were wounded during the incident had been “treated and released” from the hospital. These tweets included the hashtag #ColumbiaMall, making communication smooth and easily accessible to the public.
People often knock Twitter, and social media in general. They claim that it ruins reputations. This may be true, but it also keeps the world informed during very traumatic times, connecting family and friends of victims who may have been involved in such incidents as the Columbia Mall shooting. Twitter also played a large role in the efforts to inform the public during other tragic incidents (e.g. US Airways Flight 1549 landing in the Hudson, The Boston Marathon bombing, and the recent Malaysia Airlines crisis). That being said, it is paramount to have a social media strategy in place that can be easily activated when crisis hits, because in today’s world people look to social media FIRST.
For more information regarding crisis communications , do not hesitate to contact the Fallston Group at 410.420.2001 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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