Pulse of the Profession

Friday Five: Communicating During a Crisis- New Strategies to Get the Word Out

Public relations professionals are often on the communication front line during a crisis, which may be terrifying since no two crises are ever the same. As communicators, it’s important to have a plan in place, and to incorporate lessons learned from past crises to create the best strategy possible. Recent emergencies and natural disasters have put communication plans to the test, and have provided the opportunity to learn the most effective practices.

In this week’s PRSA “Friday Five” post – an analysis of the week’s biggest public relations and business news and commentary – we look at the impact of Superstorm Sandy on crisis communications, the impact of social media during a crisis, the use of Twitter during the LAX shooting and how brands can communicate appropriately following a major crisis. We’ll also look at recent blunders that have made public relations professionals rethink their crisis strategies.

One year on: communications lessons from Sandy (PR Week)

A year has passed since Superstorm Sandy hit the east coast, and government agencies and utility companies are continuing to assess their crisis communication plans to make them more effective for future emergencies. One area that these organizations are paying particular attention to is social media and mobile communication. Many victims in the areas affected by the storm lost power, and therefore turned to social media and mobile communications to receive the latest information during and after the storm.

“People who could get online would go to lightweight websites to save their battery or because they had a weak connection. That’s why Twitter proved so successful,” said Rachel Haot, chief digital officer for the City of New York. Communicators used trends from information seekers to understand what information was needed the most during emergencies and to assess areas that need to be improved.

Social Media Crisis Management (Social Barrel)

Many colleges and universities are using social media as a tool to communicate with students during crises and emergencies. Because students are in-tune with social media and frequently rely on it as a news source, it’s an important outlet for the distribution of emergency information. However, before institutions can effectively use social media as a crisis channel, they must have a plan in place that incorporates the best social media practices. Communicators should:

  • Reply to comments, tweets, or mentions, at the most appropriate time, usually after school hours or during breaks
  • Look for ways to turn around bad situations and negative comments
  • Formulate a response plan for crises and prepare the right responses for each crisis

LAX shooting prompts official updates on Twitter (PR Daily)

Communicators took to Twitter to quickly update the public during the recent shooting at Los Angeles International Airport. After the shooting took place, the LAX official Twitter account continuously updated its feed to not only inform those at the airport about the status of  the lockdown, but to also confirm official news.

“The managers of the airport’s account focused primarily on tweeting information about air traffic and keeping travelers away from the area where the shooting occurred,” the article states. LAX’s social media strategy during a crisis can help other official Twitter handles gauge how they would like to create their messaging.

Examples of the tweets sent from the official LAX account are featured in the article.

#PRFail: Newport Beach Marketing Director Fired Over LAX Shooting Tweet (PRNewser)

Communication during a crisis is key, but what is released after the crisis is equally as important. Jeff Soto, the former marketing director for Newport Beach, tweeted from the city’s handle encouraging travelers to take advantage of the area’s beaches to “avoid the chaos” at LAX. The tweet caused a stir for its apparent lack of empathy following a traumatic shooting event.

The full tweet can be viewed in the article, and serves as an example for social media managers to follow trends, but to be mindful of appropriate messaging following a crisis. The tweet was deleted an hour after it was posted, and an apologetic statement was given. Soto was released from his position as a result of the controversial tweet.

Paying for Silence in Times of Crisis (Business2Community)

The Jerry Sandusky scandal has triggered many organizations to reassess their crisis communications strategies. Organizations often invest in insurance and “awareness programs” as a form of crisis management; however more needs to be done to protect organizations and to ensure transparency. According to the article, organizations should:

  • Monitor any issues very carefully
  • Take allegations seriously
  • Immediately implement policies

One of the main lessons shared by media monitoring organization Critical Mention is to avoid the “failure to act” mistake and to proactively communicate with the public to allow for better transparency and to avoid future implications.

Faith Goumas is the public relations associate at the Public Relations Society of America.

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