Can the social networks help me manage my communication in a crisis situation?

In a situation of crisis, one would traditionally deploy the following media-specific communication tools:
> The implementation of a questions / answers platform for company’s spokespersons
> The distribution of press releases containing key information
> The organization of media interviews or conferences
In other words, the company communicates with the journalists who will hand over the information to a wider audience.

With the development of the social networks, the journalists are not anymore the only ones to pass on the information. The employees, the media or leading figures, the customers, the influencers (i.e. all the stakeholders) also spread on their behalf information or stands on the subject. Accordingly, many companies realize today that they will have to consider the social networks to manage their crisis (and thus to speak directly with their public). Then before going into web 2.0, we would like to share with you five small advices.

#1 advice: use the social networks only if you were already proactive there
Do not start being proactive on social networks with a subject of crisis. On the one hand, you might make mistakes (of writing style, codes, etc.), which could highly compromise your crisis management; on the other hand, with no previous experience, you might underestimate the time necessary to handle comments, tweet, retweet, comments, questions, etc.. Finally, you will be seen as the one using the social networks to make top-down communication (which is contrary to the web 2.0 philosophy) and to be criticized for doing so. As a conclusion, if you have never posted a tweet or ever managed your brand’s Facebook comments, please give-up.

#2 advice: inform your subscribers/followers as soon as possible
Do not wait for the publication of the press release (that always takes a few hours, especially in times of crisis) to speak to your audience. The idea is here to assure/confirm that the crisis is handled and that this is your top priority. It will often avoid unfounded rumors going round.
Example for a tweet: the teams @username are getting together to understand what has caused #nameoftheincident. We will keep you posted.

#3 advice: handle the questions or comments posted on the social networks
As much as possible, avoid leaving a question without an answer. Two situations can appear.
> Situation 1: you do have an official answer to communicate; in this case, express it objectively and by making a reference to press releases or interviews already published onto the subject
> Situation 2: you cannot give a position yet on the subject; in this case, simply answer by saying that information will be given with the conference/interview/press release or that experts are considering what happened and that information will be communicated once they have come to conclusions.

#4 advice: give visibility on the social networks to the communication you made to the media
A press release, an interview, a press conference? Pass on this information on the social networks. Some people will follow the situation from these web platforms only. This is also a good opportunity to make your official communication relieved on the social networks (Facebook and Twitter allow very easily to pass on information…).

#5 advice: don’t drop traditional tools of crisis management
Prepare Q & A platforms, spread them to the company spokespersons and managers, publish press releases, organize (if needed) interviews or conferences with the press. Journalists remain the experts for the information’s analysis and diffusion. They are also granted (and very fortunately) with a higher credit than the one given to social networks.

Here are a few aspects to consider for external communication but we are obviously convinced of the importance to prepare a communication plan for internal audiences as well…