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The increasing importance of Social Media in a Crisis & the need for a Strategy

Its nothing new but social media has changed the way we communicate, there has been a fundamental switch in the way we communicate and want to be communicated to in many aspects of our lives.  It would be wrong to assume that traditional methods of communication as we know them are soon going to be a thing of the past but with the emergence of new communication platforms such as Twitter & Facebook this has changed the game in relation to how information is transferred and relayed in the event of a crisis.  The big challenge for many organisations is just how to handle communications in such an event and to the role which Social Media can play.

The recent RBS/Nat West/ Ulster Bank computer fiasco left more than 100,000 Ulster Bank customers alone and in limbo with ongoing delays in processing payments which extended to affect salary transfers and some social welfare benefits.  A statement put out by a company spokeswoman for Ulster Bank said they were “working hard to minimise the impact and will ensure that those who are affected do not suffer any financial loss” and that  “Ulster Bank customers can access their money as normal through our branch network”.  However many customers spoke of their “frustration & uncertainty at the last of importation” and even suspicion  and panic at the lack of information.

Following and observing conversations unfolding online and watching the message being transmitted via Ulster Bank by more traditional methods such as Print, TV and online platforms such as the BBC, it did not seem or at least to me that the bank had any handle on what was happening or discussed on the Social Media Channels. Perhaps they did, but decided not to respond or engage. This has been a huge mistake.

Many organisations have long since realized the effectiveness of Twitter as a real time platform for updating customers on ongoing problems which may or may not be taking place. This is a concern.  Given the current way in which users are now communicating Ulster Bank still does not have an official account on Twitter, missing a massive opportunity to be seen to be rebuilding connections with customers who have been affected.  Not an easy task but one nevertheless which should have been taken place.  It seems many affected have already been turning to Facebook and Twitter to voice their anger and concerns at the problem but the conversation is all one way.

The above case is by no means isolated and highlights to big businesses once again the power and reach of this form of communication.  In times of crisis as our exposure increases to communications online more of us will turn to Facebook & Twitter as a way to send our message out or indeed to follow conversations and join in discussions relating to the event or crisis.  Results from a survey carried out by the Red Cross highlights that:

  • Followed by television and local radio, the internet is the third most popular way for people to gather emergency information with 18% of both the general and the online population specifically using Facebook for that purpose;
  • Nearly a fourth (24%) of the general population and a third (31%) of the online population would use social media to let loved ones know they are safe;
  • Four out of five (80%) of the general population and 69% of the online population surveyed believe that national emergency response organizations should regularly monitor social media sites in order to respond promptly;

Just as handling a crisis offline, a ‘Crisis Communication Strategy’ for online is essential. The principal traditional fundamentals, many of which are the same, play an important role in how information is pushed out via online channels and how conversations and questions are handled via platforms such as Twitter & Facebook.  It is imperative that planning is sought in order to understand how events will be handled and how to respond online in the event of a crisis.

Social Media can be used very effectively to inform the public about developments surrounding a crisis before, during and after they happen and having a clear and focused strategy in place will ensure a business is well prepared should a crisis occur.

In the case of the Ulster Bank’s recent crisis, engaging with their customers via social media could & would of have helped enormously by communicating their resolve and reassure and inform them that actions are being taken to solve their ongoing issues and having a strategy in place for just such am event could only have assisted.




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Wayne Denner shares his knowledge & expertise on leading tech industry blog.

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