Social Media and Crises

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Our world is changing. Yesterday morning I checked Twitter for updates.  Found a link to an announcement from Queen’s University in Kingston about the death of a first year student that morning.  Literally, within minutes of the announcement, it was posted on Twitter.

I then checked CBC and CTV and the Globe and Mail for any updates.  None was to be found.  It’s now faster to get the news through Twitter than through traditional news outlets.

And therein lies the problem. Although yesterday’s announcement was easily verified, as I was able to got to the Queen’s news centre and confirm that a student had indeed died.  No further information had been provided, as the university was trying to reach the student’s family before sharing any further information.

But what happens when there is overall chaos, such as what happened during the Haitian earthquake? Rumours run amok, with no clear authority to provide accurate information.

And, how do organizations manage crisis communications when others are sending out messages using social media?  Especially when they are small organizations with limited capacity to monitor social media. Inaccurate information can cause harm to both organizations, and to the individuals involved.  As users of social media, we need to use it responsibly.

As organizations, the speed at which social media can publicize something means that we have to change the way we think about media.  We need to be careful what we share, as it can echo throughout the world.  At the same time, we need to respond rapidly when a crisis breaks. The longer the communication vacuum, the more likely a disastrous miscommunication will also echo throughout the world.  We need to plan for a crisis, now, not later.


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