Crisis Response on Twitter: 3 Keys to the First Hour

Crisis Response on Twitter: 3 Keys to the First Hour

Like it or not, Twitter is now the de facto place people go for breaking news. It is where the majority of journalists will find out about an incident at your organization. It is where people who saw, heard or felt the incident will let the world know of their experience. It’s also the first place you need to post information on what’s happened. Your response on Twitter during the first hour will set the tone for the rest of the response.

I think there are three keys to success on Twitter during the first 60 minutes of incident response.

Within 15 Minutes: Acknowledge.

Just one sentence will suffice. Here is the Tweet Southwest Airlines posted shortly after one of its planes went off the end of the runway at Chicago’s Midway Airport on April 26, 2011.

“Gathering details regarding the event (at Midway) please standby for more info.”

Simple, clear, responsive. If you can get this first Tweet out faster, do it. 15 minutes is good. Ten minutes is better. And don’t be afraid to send this Tweet out more than once during the first 30 minutes.

15 – 45 Minutes: Respond.

Is there a meeting place for employees? Have authorities been notified? Are you accounting for your people? Do you want anyone to do anything? Is there a phone number to call? As soon as you know what those actions are, let people know what’s happening. This is how you establish yourself as a credible source for the entire response.

This Tweet, sent about two minutes after the explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, was sent by well-known runner Josh Cox. Although he isn’t an official from the Boston Athletic Association, he’s a credible source who offered timely information during a crisis. (Note: the timestamp on this tweet auto-converted to Pacific Time, 11:51 am. It was sent at 2:51 pm Eastern, two minutes after the explosions.)

The official Twitter account for the marathon sent out the first post-bombing Tweet came just under two hours after the event, at 4:47 pm Eastern time.  It was a very helpful Tweet for runners and their families with the new location where people could meet up. This is exactly the kind of helpful information you can Tweet in crisis that is helpful to your stakeholders.

45 – 60 Minutes: Empathize. 

In most cases, you will have a pretty good idea that people have been injured or killed in an incident. You may not know any other details than there has been an injury or a death. But you can Tweet a general statement of empathy for those impacted by the event. Go beyond the boiler plate “Our thoughts and prayers, blah blah blah…” that has become devoid of any actual empathy. Express genuine emotion for those impacted by the event. What might just be a really long day at the office for you will be an event that will change some people’s lives forever. Be worthy of that moment.

This is just the first hour and just Twitter. You still have all the other tasks and responsibilities, too. Issue an initial statement within an hour. Update your website (with a dark site or a crisis response site like PIER). Monitor what’s being said on social media, get your team together, get connected with police, fire or other external agencies that are part of the response. There’s a lot to do and it’s likely you won’t do it perfectly. That’s ok.

People won’t remember the small imperfections, but they will remember a strong response during the first hour of a crisis. Twitter is key to getting out of the gate strongly and giving your company the best possible change to succeed throughout the crisis.