The Role of Social Media in Crisis Situations

Social media has changed absolutely everything and absolutely nothing in crisis communications.

I’m on my way to the International Air Transport Association’s Crisis Communications Conference in Hong Kong today and much of the discussion leading up to the event has focused on the impact of social media in crisis situations, and for good reason. Social media has been a transformative catalyst in both responding to and managing crises, creating both considerable challenges and very real opportunities for communicators across all industry sectors.

On the one hand, the proliferation of social platforms has enabled those involved in crises – consumers, eye-witnesses and public/investigating authorities – to share video content and accompanying commentary instantly… shortening response times to a matter of minutes. At the same time, mobile and social channels provide communicators with an unprecedented opportunity to track breaking public sentiment, engage in audience dialogue when appropriate and share information and situation updates more widely, speedily and authentically than ever before.

So, while everything has changed in terms of the challenges and opportunities associated with the instantaneous, global sharing of developments and opinions, nothing has changed when it comes to the “evergreen” core principles of crisis communications (click to tweet):

  • Prepare rigorously for the highest priority reputational risks
  • Systematically track and analyze stakeholder perceptions as a means of prioritizing tasks and resources
  • Deliver consistent messaging
  • Ensure the organization’s words are fully aligned with its actions, matching human empathy with decisive action
  • Actively factor in the importance of culture and language into the strategy
  • Act with honesty and integrity, and speak with one voice – based on facts not speculation

Social media – alongside owned digital assets – represent an unavoidable and indispensable set of delivery channels and listening tools central to the strategic management of any modern crisis. However, that function will only be effective if those tools are deployed as part of a broader omni-channel crisis communications strategy that considers all relevant stakeholder groups.

About Simeon Mellalieu

Simeon is responsible for managing the overall business of the Hong Kong office and driving its development. Simeon also has a strong client focus in his work. As head of the Corporate and Technology Practice at Ketchum Hong Kong he provides senior counsel on corporate positioning, reputation management, brand building, issues and crisis management, and sponsorship and sports marketing. Simeon also leads the region's Broadcast Media Strategy Group which provides specialist insight into media relations targeting TV.

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