Red Cross offers key lessons in crisis communications

The disaster response agency uses an array of traditional and new media channels to deliver news and other messages—and, when necessary, to correct erroneous or outdated information.

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Every day, the American Red Cross faces crises big and small that the organization’s public relations team responds to with a strategy that relies heavily on social media.

“People always ask me… You must be great at crisis communication because you handle so many disasters,” Laura Howe, vice president for public relations for the American Red Cross, said at Ragan Communications’ Breakthrough Strategies for Corporate Communicators conference. “I always tell people that for us, a disaster is not a crisis situation. If we can’t do PR around disasters, then we might as well not be in this business.”

Crisis communication has changed dramatically in the era of social media, which Howe said is today’s canary in the coal mine, once used to alert miners to dangerous conditions. When a crisis issue is “about to bubble,” organizations will see it on social media first, mainly Twitter, she said.

“It is the first place we go to detect a crisis and also deal with a crisis.”

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