This rather ameba-looking graphic, showing how the news of Osama bin Laden’s death broke and then spread on Twitter, is a graphic reminder of how the news cycle works today. It’s also a reminder of Twitter’s ability to deliver news in bite-size nuggets.
What is most telling in this graph is that the Web of human traffic came from one single tweet from Keith Urbahn, chief of staff at the office of Donald Rumsfeld.
An hour before the formal announcement of bin Laden’s death, Urbahn posted his speculation on the topic of the upcoming emergency presidential address. Little did he know that this tweet would trigger an avalanche of reactions, retweets, and conversations that would beat mainstream media and the White House announcement.
This is the reality of crisis management in the digital age.
Twitter is the new police scanner. It is a barometer for fascination, education, and obsession. But most of all, tweets happen in real time, so in a crisis, raw emotion is as frequent as real news. Twitter information will always be someone’s perception of what they witnessed, what they have seen, what they have experienced.
It is the voice of the people.
The dark side of Twitter for companies
We hear and read posts about how Twitter information cannot be trusted, and how rogue tweets can dent a reputation or shatter a share price. For instance, a false tweet from one Indonesian student claiming one of its planes had crashed spread like wildfire, caused mass panic, and dented the share price of Australia’s flagship airline Qantas
What this means is that organizations must
respond quickly to rumors, misinformation, and false and/or misleading reports. As soon as Qantas officially reported that no plane had crashed, the share price recovered.
Like it or not, Twitter has become a key tool in crisis management. It’s a powerful real-time reporting tool for citizen journalists, first responders, and organizations alike. It has become the online circulatory system for news—pumping information among media organs, consumers, and businesses throughout the world.
With that in mind, here are five rules for managing Twitter in a crisis:
1. Act quickly. This is a must. Organizations must, must, must respond within one hour after the news breaks.
This is the third article in a week-long series about crisis communications by Jane Jordan-Meier, who recently released her book, The Four Stages of Highly Effective Crisis Management. You can read all five articles in this series at the Mr. Media Training Blog, where the story first appeared, and receive a special discount on her excellent book here.
2. Monitor early and often. There is a vast array of social monitoring tools out there, but at the very least Google Alerts can help your company stave off disaster.
3. Have a triangular approach ready. If the situation escalates out of Twitter, use three different methods of communicating to your key stakeholders in a crisis: Twitter, your website or blog, and at least one key media outlet.
4. Remember: We’re human. We are still incredibly irrational and constantly make decisions based on our intuition, or whatever we feel like at that moment. We will construct our stories according to our reality.
5. Don’t just listen; hear. Twitter and social media in general are very empowering and strong motivators when others want to silence us. Iran and Egypt are just two that come to mind. In a crisis, we want someone to hear us, someone to care.