Social Media and Crisis: 6 Things You Should Do, 2 You Shouldn’t

Hey ho! Let’s go! Hey ho! Let’s go! We’re at #4 (that’s not a hashtag, that’s just a “number sign” [and then the number that comes after it]) in our countdown of the Top 10 Most Read Pieces of 2015 on the ol’ #CrisisComms blog (that. that was a hashtag). Have you ever read a crisis communication piece that advises you not to wrestle with pigs? Probably not, unless you’ve been tracking us this year. This is a piece that Paul published this Spring, but it transcends seasons. Enjoy!



Planning ahead matters.

Planning matters.

“Do as I say, not as I do.”

I jabbed a man in the eye with a flash drive once for saying that.

I prefer, “Do as I say, do as I do,” or, “Don’t do what I don’t do, don’t do what I don’t say.” (wait, what?)

What was I getting ready to talk about? Oh right.

There’s a lot of good content out there prescribing the best use of social media for whatever your communication goals might be. That said, I haven’t seen as much content covering social media tips for managing communication during a crisis or critical event.

To that end, here’s my quick and easy list of “Dos and Don’ts” (see how I brought that back?)


Use Social Media for the speed and agility it provides: Getting ahead of an emerging crisis is the most important strategy, and social media is one of the most powerful tools for doing just that. Knowing you’re on top and aware of a bad situation gives stakeholders confidence in the brand.

Use Social Media to establish yourself as the best and most consistent source of information: If you’ve managed to get ahead of an emerging crisis, this is how you stay in front (or at least keep pace) as events unfold. People will turn to social media for information, to voice their frustration or to simply pile on when you’re having a bad day. Ensure your organization is part of the discussion as a reliable, responsive, honest and empathetic voice.

[Tip: Use hashtags across all platforms early and often to brand your message and establish your updates as coming from the source. Identity possible hashtags in your crisis plan before something happens so they can be quickly implemented early on.]

Use Social Media to empower stakeholders with information and a call to action: Risk communication theory and practice hold that impacted publics feel better when they can do something. Being asked to provide information or assistance, or simply to visit a webpage to learn more, can move people out of a victim mentality. It helps them and it demonstrates your care and empathy.

[Pro Tip: Include an explicit call to action in all Social Media updates. For Twitter you can use the formula: incident description + what is being done to respond + call to action]

Use social media dashboards like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to monitor multiple social media platforms and respond to public inquiries and concerns.

[Tip: When a customer directs a line of questioning directly at you, suggest they contact you privately to get the conversation off the public site]

Use YouTube to post updates, imagery of the incident, press briefings, etc.: It’s something I don’t see done nearly enough. If a picture’s worth a thousand words, a moving picture’s worth a million. The video doesn’t have to be refined or produced, just meaningful.

Ensure all your content is kept in a centralized location: Use your main website (or crisis site) and tie your posts and updates back to the site. This will simplify things and help keep the message consistent across platforms.


Try to engage on too many social media platforms: While the instinct might be to hit every social media platform to ensure the widest possible dissemination, it’s simply not practical during a crisis. Consider that you will not only need to post to all these platforms but then you must monitor them and respond when necessary. Trying to be in too many places at once will dilute your message and increase the odds that conflicting information will enter the conversation.

Wrestle with pigs; you get dirty and they like it: While Mitt Romney was technically correct in saying corporations are people, in the realm of public perception, they are not. Expect ugly, hurtful things to be said about your organization, your employees, maybe even you … it feels personal but unless they know you personally, it’s not. You might feel an obligation to push back; know that it will not help the situation.


Image courtesy Ryan McGuire of Gratisography, used under Creative Commons license. Original image:, License: The image has not been altered.

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