Social media for emergency notification: what to know

Man-talk-bubblesAdmit it. You’ve been thinking about Twitter, haven’t you?

It’s shiny. It’s sexy. Everybody’s doing it. Even the POTUS. So why shouldn’t your company use social media for emergency notification?

Well, let’s get this out of the way first—nobody’s saying you shouldn’t. Depending on the kind of organization you work for, the crisis you so desperately want to keep a lid on at 10:00 may be worldwide news by 10:15. So it makes sense to plan to, at the very least, join the conversation that’s happening around your news.

Before you dive in, however, consider these points.

1.     Distribution is out of your hands

Once you post a message to a social media site, it’s not yours anymore—and it’s out there for good, warts and all. Most social sites will allow you to delete posts, but as countless shamed organizations will tell you—sometimes trying to make it better only makes it worse. Retracted tweets can live on in infamy as screen captures, and deleting Facebook posts can inspire levels of community rage that themselves become the story.

Bottom line: think before you post, and prepare for unexpected consequences every time you do.

2.     You’ll likely need to plan for approvals

Somebody—whether it’s corporate communication, marketing, the CEO’s office, or a combination—will outrank your BC/DR team on the corporate ladder. No matter how big the crisis you’re trying to manage, don’t think you can just demand access to your company’s social media channels. Ask for permission instead, and prepare to have your messages vetted or even altered.

3.     You may not even be allowed to write your own messages

Depending on your organizational structure (not to mention a host of other political factors) you might have no control over messaging at all. You might need to console yourself with simply offering suggestions to those who are driving the bus—and then sitting back and hoping they take you in the right direction.

4.     Planning ahead is the key to success

Pre-built templates can help—by working with approvers or owners to green light certain standard messages ahead of time, you can save critical minutes in a crisis.

5.     Everybody will see it—or not

You might be used to all-staff communication systems, or even channels like SMS or email, where you can be assured with some degree of certainty that your audience has seen your message.

Not so with social media. Website algorithms that artificially limit viewership unless you pay to promote your message, fragmented attention spans, connection failures, server errors—all of these can play havoc with your distribution. Even the sheer volume of social media noise can work against you.

6.     Social sites have rules and restrictions

If you think it’s hard to say much in 140 characters now, wait until you’re trying to tweet in the middle of a hurricane. The more you practice working within the artificial (and sometimes arbitrary) limitations of your social platform of choice, the easier it will be in times of stress.

7.     Social media is an echo chamber—and a dumb one at that

During a crisis or disaster, it may seem more prudent to stay away from social media. But bear in mind that if you don’t, rumors, innuendo, gossip, and just plain wrong information may spread unabated—and quickly spread out of control. There’s value in joining the conversation as early as possible.

Is social media right for you?

It’s clear that social media can’t be your only way to deliver an alert, but it probably should be include Broadcasting emergency alerts on social media—or in other words, 1) widely, and 2) without control—exposes you to risk, plain and simple.

How you manage that risk depends, in large part, on how well you keep these seven considerations in mind.

Download the Social Media for the BC/DR Professional white paper to learn more. Looking for the best emergency notification system? Download the Automated Notification System RFP Template.