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Social media is great for crisis management, just be careful

We all know social media plays an important role in the way businesses communicate with each other and the general public. That’s old hat by now. It could, however, also play an increasingly important role in the way businesses deal with a crisis.

Tech research company Gartner reckons that by 2015, 75% of organisations with a roadmap for continuing operations under adverse conditions will include public social media services as part of their strategies for communicating in the midst of a crisis.

There a number of benefits in including social media in your business’ plan for dealing with a crisis. In fact, research vice president at Gartner Andrew Walls, reckons that companies “simply cannot afford to ignore social media as a crisis communications tool”.

“In many cases, social media may represent the only available means of locating and contacting personnel; providing stakeholders with the information and assistance they need; informing citizens, customers and partners of product/service availability; and taking other business-critical actions following a disruptive event,” he said.

Roberta Witty, also a research vice president cautions, however, that you have to be careful when using social media during a crisis, especially when people within the company and the general public are using the same social networks.

“As the workforce develops personal, digital friendships that might take precedence over the official spokesperson of the organisation, a conflict over who is the authority during an event can emerge, leading to unanticipated and negative results if official procedures are not followed,” she says.

In order to avoid any conflicted information emerging, she says, companies should make sure that procedures are outlined clearly and followed during a crisis.

The technical and cultural differences between social media and more traditional technologies (such as corporate emails) means that there are a number of other challenges companies need to bear in mind when using the medium.

These include:

  • Maintaining an authoritative and credible information source

  • Enlisting active, effective participation of staff and the public that are active in social media
  • Collecting, filtering, analysing and applying information gathered from social platforms.

The bottom line, says Witty, is that no organisation “can afford to ignore the opportunities and risks presented by social media”.