Communication during a disaster can make a difference between life and death. This week the eastern part of the US experienced the “super” storm Sandy. It is a disaster which is effected millions of people. Communities flooded. Roads washed out. Power out. Phone service down. Transportation systems halted. People need information, but yet are faced with communications challenges. Information needs to get out and received fast on all available channels where folks are getting their information. Enter social media as an effective communications channel.
Emergency management has embraced social media using it to communicate with communities as well as get on the ground reports. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been using social media effectively. FEMA’s twitter stream is filled information and links. Often specific information to your location.
Last year during Hurricane Irene, I was very appreciative to the updates by FEMA and their administrator Craig Fugate, who by the way manages his own account, on Twitter. During Irene, in 2011, North Carolina took a direct hit. We lost cable, Internet, and electric. My only outside link to the world was my iPhone. Through Twitter monitoring the hashtag #irenenc and following Craig Fugate, I was able to get needed updates with links to mobile websites regarding the storm and make decisions to keep my family safe.
Moving back to Superstorm Sandy, the New York Fire Department’s Twitter account was a life line to many New Yorkers. The one-person response team kept updates going on the developing situation answering questions/concerns and referring folks throughout the night. The Twitter stream provided people with information, empathy, and comfort.
Shifting gears emergency management to commercial enterprises. While “newsjacking” is not encouraged and will damage an organization’s reputation, organizations can provide relevant information regarding the situation at hand. That is acceptable. It is a fine line between providing a needed service and being distasteful with shameless promotion not related to the disaster at hand. Starbucks and The Home Depot both struck the right tone as seen below.
There are smart ways to use social media during a disaster:
• Be sensitive to the situation at hand and tone of messages are important.
• Make your updates relevant and targeted.
• Use an event specific hashtag so your information is easily found.
• Be present and responsive to inquiries.
• Know your community and their needs.
• Direct to a mobile website if users are on smart phones.
Many organizations are still grasping the nuisances of social media. It is important to think before you tweet. Using the above guidelines, your organization will avoid a social media #FAIL.