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Social Media for Crisis Communications

Last week HowTo.gov hosted a free webinar devoted to social media communication use in crisis situations. Social Media for Crisis Communication; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly presenter Nicole Stillwell from the United States Department of State provided ten best practices for using social media during a crisis. In this presentation Stillwell presented a crisis as not only a natural disaster or unexpected event but also a public relations crisis.

An overview of the 10 best practices for the use of social media include:

  1. Cease Normal Operations – Halt any scheduled posts that were to be sent out once a crisis has been identified. Sending scheduled messages can make your organization appear uncaring of unaware of a crisis event.
  2. Acknowledge the situation immediately – Being a leader in the face of a crisis is important to earning and keeping your organization’s credibility. Acknowledging a situation as soon as it happens, even if it is a public relations related crisis, is best.
  3. Get your message to as many platforms as possible – Consider the use of new Twitter alerts to help send your messages out to the widest possible audience. Post messages about the event through all social media channels your organization uses.
  4. Be prepared to address vulnerabilities – Crises can bring increased attention to social media accounts. Be prepared to address or report hacking, bugs, or glitches.
  5. Find the right balance – Don’t change the content of a message, only edit so that is appropriate for social media or link to full or detailed information if necessary. Ensure that staff can continue operational tasks while balancing with social media content delivery.
  6. Don’t participate in a conversation when your brand doesn’t belong – Trying to insert your organization’s name into a conversation using hashtags to capitalize on publicity is not appropriate.
  7. Don’t feed the trolls – Social media accounts are seen by the public as the official voice of the organization. Engaging in debates with or getting defensive about comments to your social media accounts can be viewed negatively. Stay professional.
  8. Correct; don’t delete – If something has gone wrong on any of the social media accounts you manage don’t delete the posts or accounts. Deleting information or an account is viewed as suspect behavior and may harm your organization’s credibility.
  9. Listen to your audience – Social media outlets may provide your organization with unfiltered information from witness. Be sure to listen but also verify information through community managers.
  10. If you have to disengage; say so – If you are unable to updated a social media account for your organization as the result of a crisis, perhaps staff are needed elsewhere or our organization must close, provide a public statement on social media outlets with information about what is going on and when you expect to begin updating the account again.

Social media is an empowering tools that connects organizations and the public, often times to vital information. Proper use of social media in a crisis can ensure that your organization remains a credible source for information.

HowTo.gov provides free webinars and recordings on a variety of technology topics. Visit the DigitalGov University Course Catalog for a full list of topics.

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