Social Media Emergency Management Basics from Everyday Life

Before ...

Before …

... and after.

… and after.

Recently my wife and I met up with several friends at our place and walked to the neighborhood craft brewery for conversation and beer sampling. A local food truck was stationed outside, and menus were placed here and there on the tables in the brewery tasting room – patrons could order high-end food from the truck to bring inside and enjoy with their high-end beer.

My wife quickly noticed something that was (purposely) amusing on the food truck menu and took a course of action that should sound familiar: she snapped a photo of it, posted it to a social media site and tagged the vendor. Within a few minutes, one of the vendor’s employees had liked the photo and left a comment saying, “We’re making you some doughnuts right now!” My wife laughed, and figured they were just playing along.

However, a few minutes later, one of the food truck vendor’s chefs was inside the tasting room, calling my wife’s first name so he could deliver the plate of doughnuts (which just happened to contain honey, peanut butter and sriracha. Too bad I don’t have a food blog!).

Everyone at the table was so surprised at what had actually happened – and how quickly – that we immediately engaged the chef to get the back story (it’s just what happens in a scenario like that when four out of the six people in your group are professional communicators). Turns out the employees of the food truck vendor routinely interact with customers via several social media channels, and monitor their likes and dislikes and adjust their menu accordingly. My wife didn’t ask for anything in her original post, but the interaction gave the chef an opportunity to prepare and deliver a batch of gourmet doughnuts from a new recipe he created based on earlier feedback from customers on social media. He also convinced everyone at the table that this was a business we would support in the future.

My first thought after the interaction was, “this is how social media is supposed to work.” In the days after, I considered how professional communicators might benefit from the story. Here’s what the food truck vendor did right, which can translate easily to crisis communications via social media and SMEM:

  • Let people know where to find you on social media. My wife could have easily just posted the photo without a mention, but there was the food truck vendor’s handle right there on the menu. Why not tag them? When I spoke on a panel at South by Southwest last year, this was one of the tips I gave the audience – make sure people know how to find you during an emergency.
  • If you have social media channels, pay attention to the conversation. There’s a term in photojournalism to describe a tactic some shooters will take to make sure they capture quick-moving action: spray and pray. As in, hold the shutter release button down and pray you get “the” shot. The social media equivalent during crises would be to just keep pushing information out, without paying attention to what is coming back from your stakeholders, praying that they get what they need from one way communication. In the case of the food vendor, they’re in business to be in business. Taking comments or complaints seriously, and engaging and/or changing a business practice accordingly, is a shrewd tactic.
  • Interaction should be quick and conversational. The people on the food truck that day were busy, but not too busy to maintain situational awareness of their social media channels. The chef didn’t give a “corporate” sounding reply, either. Typically, there’s no “down time” during a crisis – so, if you’re going to use social media, treat it as seriously as any other form of communication, and plan ahead.
  • Free doughnuts! Most people probably aren’t in the position to provide this to a customer, but you can give people more than what they ask for when you engage them on social media during a crisis. People can get by on the 5 Ws and H at the onset of crisis, but you need to provide more, eventually.
  • If you make a promise, keep it. Technically the chef didn’t promise doughnuts, as my wife read it, but in his mind, he did – and he delivered (literally). Once you engage with someone via social media during a crisis, and promise to get back to them with information you don’t immediately have on hand, keep the promise. It’s the same as getting back to a news reporter.
  • Be proactive. This is one of the basics of crisis communication, but it’s always worthy of a reminder – give people the information they need as soon as you have verified it. You don’t have to wait for a question to give out facts relevant to the crisis du jour. The chef on the food truck was proactive in that he went above and beyond – my wife would’ve been content to get a like or a comment on the post. He did that, and more.

After the entire interaction – and, of course, the delivery and consumption of a superior product – I’m fairly certain that if my wife spots that same food truck again while we’re out and about, she’ll place an order for those doughnuts. If she doesn’t, I will! The vendor built trust and credibility with the interaction. (And, not only that, but my wife ordered a burrito after the doughnut delivery, partly because of the interaction. And she was hungry.)

Both images graciously provided by Mrs. Brewer.

Talk to me, Goose.

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