In a Crisis, to Tweet or Not to Tweet?

That is the question. How organizations respond during a tragedy like the Boston Marathon bombings can make or break them in the public eye. One social media expert shares some crisis response best practices.

In the minutes, hours, and days after tragedy struck the Boston Marathon April 15, people in the United States and around the world were glued to television screens and their computers and mobile devices, looking for the latest updates and breaking news.

During that time, individuals, newsrooms, and organizations were forced to make split-second decisions on how to react to what was going on in Boston. Social media played a huge role throughout the week—for better and for worse—in circulating information and misinformation about developments. Now, two weeks later, how media outlets and other groups took to Twitter and Facebook to respond to the events is being scrutinized for lessons learned.

Associations Now recently spoke with Adele Cehrs, president and founder of Epic PR Group, to see what associations can learn from the events and how their response matters.

How has the emergence of social media as a go-to news source affected how associations should respond to tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombing?

With the 24/7 news cycle that exists, the public’s focus is intensified on national crises like this, therefore groups really need to be considerate about their response process. They may want to get in front of issues like this, but they don’t want to seem opportunistic or insensitive. Whoever’s behind an association’s social media efforts really needs to be sensitive to that. Given the pervasiveness of social media, I think you can’t shut everything down when something like this happens, but you can be sensitive.

As soon as news like this breaks, what steps should groups take regarding their social media presence?

Anyone watching the Twitter and Facebook feeds on that Monday understood that the news from Boston was totally overwhelming. As the developments poured in, no one was thinking about brand promotion except the promoters themselves. As a social media professional, keeping up with the story as it unfolded was the most important thing. All automated messages needed to be put on pause—not completely stopped, but put on pause. It’s a matter of respecting how the nation is grieving and handling events like this.

Is it necessary to make some kind of a statement regarding the events?

To answer that, you have to look at and understand how your market—the people who are fans of your page or your followers—are impacted by the events. You can make a tailored statement if your brand ties into the event, but it really almost has to be directly relevant. And the timing is crucial—you have to not do it so quickly that you seem opportunistic. For groups that aren’t directly related that want to release something, it should be something broad that everyone can get behind.

How should proximity to the events factor in to a group’s decision to say something?

With the Boston Athletic Association, when they put out a tweet the next day saying they weren’t going to stop running, that showed strong unity. If you’re not in Boston, and you put out something like that, it doesn’t have the same impact.

When is it OK to go back to business as usual?

That’s going to be different for everyone. At that point it’s something that you should be talking with your PR folks about because it’s going to impact the perception of your organization. It definitely requires an integrated approach. Social media folks should bring in their PR counsel, talk with their executives, maybe even the board, and see how, from a brand perspective, they want to go about getting back out there.

Events like this are certainly unpredictable, but what can associations do to prepare an appropriate response?

Groups have to have a crisis response process in place. Have the right people on your crisis response team and have a process for how to move forward, but do not sit silent or risk seeming insensitive. Have a person of authority ready who can take action on your behalf, who knows how the organization is going to stand on the issue. If you’re not reacting in real time, you’re not doing what’s necessary to stay engaged in the right way.


Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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