Social Media in the time of Crisis

As you all know by now, the bombs set off during the Boston Marathon yesterday were a horrible thing. People were injured. People died. Our world has changed again.

Many took to social media to share news quickly to say that they were okay, instructions on how to find help and how to give help. Some posted prayers and comforting quotes. Pictures and videos were shared. News from individuals, media, and authorities was pushed out quickly.

Because so many people take to social media in a time of crisis, individuals, organizations and companies that have automated postings should consider changing the messages in their posts until there is some sense of normalcy again. Some say turn them off completely for a while. Mostly benign, the social media posts can make one look uncaring, unfeeling, and uninterested. For instance, during the Boston crisis, Virgin Airlines was sending promtional tweets about the London Marathon this weekend. If you don’t turn off the automated tweets and don’t change the message, be prepared to hear negative comments from the people that read the posts and don’t realize that the posts are automated.

Some people posted items that they quickly deleted after quick reflection while others saw it as an opportunity to be sensationalist for their own benefits. Some even saw it as an opportunity to set up spoof social media pages to build awareness for themselves. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you see it, tweets like these can not truly be deleted. What happens on Twitter stays in the Library of Congress.

What would your agency do in this time of crisis? Do you have a crisis communications plan in place? Who is speaking on your behalf? Does your staff or volunteers know what to say? It is increasingly important for you to be able to share your information quickly, accurately, and through the most channels as possible.

Update: 4/17/13 – here are a couple more examples of automated tweets failing:

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