Fallston Group

Social Media: The New Norm for Crisis Management?

Tragedy hit close to home Saturday, January 25th, when 19-year-old Darion Marcus Aguilar opened fire in the Mall in Columbia. The shooting, which took place in popular skateboard apparel chain, Zumiez, resulted in the deaths of two store employees; Brianna Benlolo, 21, of College Park, and Tyler Johnson, 25, of Ellicott City. With the investigation ongoing, the public and press have looked to social media for continuous updates and answers.

In their first press conference following the incident, the Howard County Police Department (HCPD) announced they would be using Twitter to inform the press and public as information became available. As promised, the social media team at HCPD has been supplying timely information to the public, all while also using their social media feeds to answer questions from concerned citizens.

Social media has previously been used by many organizations to alert the public of ongoing situations, and the HCPD utilized it to its fullest. Within 45 minutes of the incident being reported, the HCPD took control of the situation by posting known information directly to their Twitter feed, @HCPSNews with the hashtag “#ColumbiaMall.” Not only did this help to lessen the issue of incorrect information being spread, but illustrated that they are willing to have an open conversation with the public, updating them on the situation.

The department has received many commendations on their Twitter feed and Facebook page for their promptness on social media, with one user commenting “So impressed with the use of social media to get current, up-to-date, and accurate information to us. Great job!!” Keeping an open dialogue with clients and the public on social media helps organizations maintain control of a situation and opens a forum to directly connect to those concerned.

Here are 11 quick tips for utilizing social media during a critical time:

1. Explain the issue thoroughly – what happened and why it happened.

2. Be accountable. Apologize – and mean it! Forget the lawyer mentality of “innocent until proven guilty.”

3. State your solution to the problem. List the steps you are taking to reach that goal – be specific!

4. State why you feel that the situation is unlikely to occur again without being over-reassuring.

5. Mention what you are offering to those who have been affected.

6. Send regular updates to stay engaged. Simple steps of progress will show your audience you care about how they view your company, and you will start to regain trust.

7. Sympathize with each stakeholder’s situation. Listen to how people are reacting to the initial crisis and base your comments on their feedback. Then notice how your audience replies to your posts in order to continually improve your responses.

8. Reply to as many – if not all of – the comments posted on your social media channels, especially during a crisis. Responding to people individually shows you sincerely care.

9. Keep it personal. This isn’t a place for stiff remarks. Speak simply and do not use corporate terms. Your stakeholders want to feel like they are speaking with a person, not a robot.

10. Never delete comments or block a customer (unless they are harassing/threatening you). Instead, address them directly, so your whole audience can see. Most likely another one of your followers noticed the difficult question asked or the unsatisfied post, and they are watching and waiting for your response.

11. After the crisis has settled, be careful not to dive immediately into hard-selling right away. When the time is right to begin another social media marketing campaign, be sure to start with a soft sell.

The Fallston Group sends its sincerest condolences to the families affected by this tragedy.

For more information on strategic communications and media or safety and security, do not hesitate to contact the Fallston Group at 410.420.2001 or by email at info@fallstongroup.com.

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