Using Twitter for issues and crisis management

If you are creating a social media strategy to handle issues or a crisis that your organisation (or you) may be facing, knowing how to use Twitter in these situations can be a powerful tool.

Twitter has grown to be one of the largest social media platforms. Unlike Facebook, which links people based primarily on their personal relationships, Twitter is built around its content. People follow others not because they know them, but because they like or are interested in what they are talking about, or just because they happen to be in the same locality. This means that information can be distributed to large amounts of people very quickly.

Think about the following tips for monitoring and responding to the chatter on Twitter the next time you are faced with an issue:

Set up geographical searches
While not the most accurate of searches, there are a number of tools available to let you see tweets based around a specific geographical location. If your organisation has specific geographical locations (think of your areas of operation, headquarters or any part of your business that is likely to attract a number of people) think about setting up specific geographical searches to monitor Twitter chatter coming out of those areas.

Monitor and build relationships in peacetime
One of the lines that is always used during media training at is that pro-active media is like ‘money in the bank of public perception’. This is never more true than in social media.

If you spend time building and cultivating your relationship with followers on Twitter, they will be more receptive to communication during a time of crisis. Take time to understand those that interact regularly with your brand online. Build the relationships based on trust and mutual communication, not selling.

Monitor online / respond offline

Just because you have a social media strategy doesn’t mean that your response strategy always has to be online. Sometimes, the best solution to a problem is picking up the phone and talking to someone. Make sure your response strategy includes offline as well as online.

Know your Twitter language

Anyone who has spent time online knows that sometimes Twitter users can sound like they are speaking their own foreign language. Cutting things to 140 characters can sometimes bring about some weird spellings. Make sure you know how your brand/sector/industry is being talked about online.

Give someone the role of online monitoring and communication- and the appropriate authority and training

Make sure that online monitoring, information dissemination and response is a dedicated role during the handling of an issue or a crisis. And no, this can’t be just ‘the team that update the website can do that’. Social media during crisis requires a dedicated position to continually monitor chatter and develop and issue responses.

The people earmarked for this role should be natural users of Twitter that are give adequate training to ensure they can handle this medium as part of your crisis/issues management plan – crisis time is not a time for learning social media.


In the aftermath of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires, geographical and keyword searches were set up to cover specific towns and areas that had been hit by the tragedy. The monitoring was used to review all of the chatter that was coming out of the locations.

The role of this monitoring was not to create a vehicle for direct communication and information via social media- there were more appropriate and personal methods to do this on the ground. Instead, the information gleaned by reviewing information informed the issues management and communications processes. Monitoring the online chatter allowed an overview of some of the public sentiments that was being felt around these towns, allowing the communication strategy to adapt and respond.

Do you have any other tips?


The role of online and social media in natural disasters

As the cleanup continues from the tragic floods in Queensland, I thought it would be appropriate to write about the role that social media increasingly plays in both the immediate response to a disaster, and the long-term recovery.

Having worked through the Victorian Bushfires of February 2009, the preceding heatwave and an ongoing role in recovery, it has amazed me at how social media has become an ingrown part in major scale events – just as social media has become an integral role in day to day lives.

Here are just some observations that I have made both from the Queensland floods and the Victorian Bushfires – I’d appreciate hearing the thoughts of others on these topics.

People use social and online mediums to get information as it is happening  – Mobile phones are often the major means of two-way communication available to people in disaster situations. While radio is a universal source of emergency information, the increasing use of smart phones means that those caught in these circumstances are searching the web, or using tools such as twitter to get location based information.

Social media users try to do their part by forwarding information – Disaster information is one of the most highly forwarded or retweeted information in social media. Many users, who are often removed from the situation at hand, lend their support by forwarding information to ensure it reaches as wide of an audience as possible. This has its advantages, but also its dangers- as discussed below.

Incorrect information can spread like wildfire – Information on social media sites is placed on the good faith that the poster has the correct information at hand. In disaster situations, however, this good faith can sometimes be incorrect. This is not done through malicious intent by the poster, but can come about because emergency situations can often change faster than the speed of social media, or the heightened state of pressure present during a crisis can often lead to the misreading of a situation.

Social media can help monitor and address issues in disaster situations and recovery – The immediacy of social media makes it invaluable in the live monitoring of situations. Victims of natural disasters, often taken out of their comfort zones and regular modes of interaction with services, will often vent any frustrations through many outlets. Monitoring online mediums can help find issues that may not be being raised through offline means.

Online information and social media conversations needs to be a part of a multiple mix of tools for recovery – Talk to anyone who works in recovery and they will tell you that one of the hardest things about communicating with those affected by disaster trauma is the low levels of retention of information. Essential information impacting victims of recovery needs to be given using multiple mediums and repeated a number of times to ensure that it has reached and been understood by your audience. Online plays an essential role in this, as the displacement of large numbers of people during disaster recovery, means that online information is the one central point of information.

So what would I advise to organisations who are either dealing with the aftermath of disasters or ensuring they are prepared for them?

  1. Plan and test your social media strategy – Know how you will utilise social media if a disaster was to impact your organisation and make a plan for its monitoring and its use.
  2. Keep information up to date – It is essential that information is updated and updated quickly in disaster situations. Ensure that you have plans in place to get content up quickly. Are your web team accessible 24 hours a day or will essential information end up waiting till them come back at 9am on Monday??
  3. Monitor social media – Set up your means for monitoring social media. If you are working in a disaster area, set up searches to monitor discussion on the disaster. If the disaster is impacting a specific region, location based monitoring of a geographic area can be invaluable in seeing the online chatter coming out of that area.
  4. Respond to issues, no matter how small they may seem – It is important to remember that what can often seem like a small issue to those outside of a disaster can often be a 100 times worse to those going through trauma.
  5. Be vigilant about the accuracy of information and correct mistakes – Mistakes in disaster situations can often be the meaning between life and death, make sure that mistakes are corrected quickly.
  6. Don’t assume that just because something is online, that everybody has seen it or understood it – Don’t just rely on social media, your communications plan must try to reach people using a number of different tools and tactics.
  7. Remember that sometimes the best way to help someone is offline not online – While in this post I have been heralding the importance of social media, we cannot forget that human contact is one of the best ways of helping someone. Take things offline where possible.