What do Social Media and the Icelandic Volcanic Eruption have to do With One Another?

More Than You Might Think!

by Gina Brelesky

It has only been a few years since social media sites have gained wide audiences and already they are playing a vital role in helping organizations respond to crisis. They have been used to coordinate volunteer efforts, spread information, raise money, and save reputations. Unfortunately, not all companies take advantage of social media to effectively manage a crisis situation. Take for instance the difference between KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) and Air France after Iceland’s volcanic eruption.

KLM, almost immediately, launched an outreach campaign via their Twitter account and Facebook page. They were consistent in their updates with links to the latest information and answers to individual questions. Air France was another story. Their Web site, with official information, was rarely updated and had little instruction about how to rebook one’s flight. Their Twitter feed was eerily silent and the most recent post on the company’s Facebook page was from February, two months prior to the event. It was obvious that Air France did not really want to use these social and digital media channels during this crisis. While KLM embraced it, Air France chose to ignore it.

The results were clearly visible in comments on their respective Facebook walls. KLM’s were generally favorable, with lots of people thanking them for their efforts. The Air France page contained comments from disgruntled fans that could not believe the company was doing so little to communicate with or help its customers. There is no question that KLM was more responsive to its stakeholders during a time of need. Chaotic events like the volcanic eruption present unique opportunities. I’m sure that the companies that grasp them will enjoy benefits long after the crisis has passed. While being stranded at an airport is never enjoyable, the goodwill created by KLM through Twitter and Facebook will continue. I suspect that for the Air France customers who went to social media channels for information, it will be remembered mostly as a frustrating endeavor.

Tips for staying ahead of the curve in a crisis situation.

So what does this mean for you? Here are some tips for staying ahead of the curve in a crisis situation:
1. Be Ready to Respond at Flashpoint. ~ In order to respond quickly to a crisis using social media you must have all of your assets in place. It takes time to set up the various channels for effective communication so plan ahead. Make social media part of your overall risk management plan.
2. “Didn’t See That Coming!” ~ That’s the problem – we never see it coming! Most of us don’t lay awake at night thinking “I wonder if anyone is online trashing my brand?” But let’s say someone is out there blogging away to the blogosphere some not-so-nice things about you, your company, or your brand. Who in your company is in charge of identifying what is going on? Who do they contact and who needs to be alerted? You need to have an alert procedure in place for a quick response. Don’t be the last to know!
3. “Tweet What? Huh?” ~ Social media is unlike traditional crisis management which might include procedures for press conferences and written releases. In the realm of social media you need to be ready to make multi-media content in a heartbeat. Who is going to do what, when, and how fast? If you need a video made and ready to post in the next few hours – who can do that? If you have to go through your IT department to make it happen the bloggers will have a field day with you!
4. “So That’s What All the Fire Drills Were About!” ~ Practice implementing your crisis communication plan. Use these times to refine what needs to be refined, change what doesn’t work and find things that do. The more you hone your plan, the better it will work in a real crisis.
5. Keep Your Ear to the Ground ~ Stay active on your social media sites. Develop relationships with fans and followers. Really listen to what they are saying and respond. Doing this consistently will build good will with your customers and get you known as someone who is willing to follow-up.