Social media has become vital in crisis response

After a major earthquake hit Japan in March 2011, followed by a terrifying tsunami, many people tried to call their loved ones but soon found that landlines were down. What could be done to reach people? Social media.

Within an hour of the earthquake striking Japan, Google launched their Person Finder app on their home page registry as a message board for survivors, family, and loved ones. The Person Finder was built by the Google Crisis Response team, comprising a philanthropic group of Google employees. The Person Finder is an multilingual database that allows users to search for missing persons online or submit information about people who are injured or are missing. The system was tracking up to 600,000 names after disasters in Japan, Haiti, Chile, Pakistan and New Zealand.

Other social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter can be used for messaging to let their family and friends know that they are OK. In addition, social media is used for fundraising to support victims.

Social media has become indispensable for responding to and managing crises, creating both considerable challenges and big opportunities for communicators.

Social platforms have enabled the various parties involved in crises – consumers, eye-witnesses, government, regulators, and emergency services – to share images and comments instantly. This has led to dramatically reduced response times. At the same time, mobile and social channels provide communicators with an unprecedented opportunity to track breaking public attitudes, engage in audience dialogue when appropriate and share information and situation updates better than ever before.

Nevertheless, as Simeon Mellalieu from Ketchum notes, the core principles of crisis communication remain constant:

  • 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.

Overall, social media tools should be used as part of an integrated crisis communication strategy that takes into account all relevant stakeholders.

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