MAD Perspectives Blog

 Social Media Lessons from Hurricane Irene

Peggy Dau - Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Those of us here on the east coast just spent the weekend tracking Hurricane Irene.  Thanks to a wide variety of communications tools, no one was in any doubt as to the potential damage that Irene could cause.  I followed the storm on local news, Twitter and Facebook.  However, the lessons from Irene lie in the planning. 

The good thing, if there is a good thing, about a hurricane - is that you know it is coming.  Unlike an earthquake or a tornado, it does not pop up out of nowhere and wreak terrible havoc.  We are able to track and predict the track of a hurricane.  as a result, we can prepare for its arrival.  This may mean boarding up windows, storing lawn furniture and potted plants in a garage, stocking up on emergency supplies or evacuating low lying areas.

How do you plan for social media emergencies?  Can you see them coming?  Are there early warning signals or do they just crop up?  I think it's a little bit of both.  If you are really listening to your customers, there are likely conversations indicating some level of customer dissatisfaction that could become a high visibility emergency, unless steps are taken to address the issue(s).  However, sometimes a product or service simply doesn't meet customer expectations and they choose to become extremely vocal about it.  This is something that is much easier to do in today's world of social media.

So, how do you plan for a social media emergency?  Here are 4 tips:

1) Develop an emergency response plan

Identify what warrants an emergency.  One negative comment may not be an emergency.  If it is a comment that spreads widely, that may be an emergency.  Identify an escalation path so that your social media team, large or small, understands the steps to take in the event of an emergency.  They should understand how to respond, or not respond, who to contact and where to find more information

2) Communicate

The key to handing any emergency, is to communicate both internally and externally.  Sometimes the best plan is to get ahead of the emergency.  Address problems pragmatically.  Provide a lot of relevant information.  Proactively inform your audience as to where they can find core documents, customer forums, product insights or answers to FAQs.  Educate your employees on the locations of this same information. 

3) Keep a positive attitude

Maintain an open mind and don't become defensive.  Social media is about open, transparent communication.  The best outcome is that you gain an understanding of the source of your customer's frustration and define a real solution. If your customer doesn't feel that you are listening or caring about their emergency, you may end up with a bigger emergency on  your hands

4) Test your options

Develop use cases of customer emergencies.  Consider how you would respond to each of the situations.  Go crazy and think way outside the box.  The issue you never imagined is the one you need to plan for.  Even if you don't come up with the emergency anticipated, at lease you will have thought through a variety of response options that could help you.

None of us want to experience a social media emergency, but the odds are in favor of a few occurring.  As you develop your social media strategy, be sure to consider your emergency response plan and be prepared.  You will find your emergencies much less frightening and may even look forward to the information you will gain.

What's your perspective?