Getting Word Out: How Social Media Aids Disaster Communication

Getting Word Out: How Social Media Aids Disaster Communication

March 24

Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are already a go-to source for people who want quick information from outlets such as government officials and news outlets, but it can also be a great way to communicate quickly with a large number of people following a disaster scenario.

Richard Dolewski, whose background is in IT disaster recovery for corporations, has worked with many companies before Superstorm Sandy ravaged the Northeast and said when disaster strikes, using social media can be one of the best ways to alert people something has happened, what the company is doing about it, and when it will be back up and running. Customers still have business to attend to and want to know when they can continue to get products or services to you or from you, so how do you get the word out?

“Social media works amazingly fast,” he said, “We use social media to talk to clients, telling them that we are still shipping product and that they will have access to their money.” Dolewski also noted that while social media is quick, it can also be dangerous because it’s easy for incorrect information to be shared with many people at once. He cautioned companies to be careful that they send accurate information.

A hurricane is good because it gives you notice, but blackouts certainly don’t say when they will happen, he said. And a company disaster like a fire may make the local news, but not many will know if the computer system is down.

When computer systems are down,  the link between the company and customers is essentially broken, but social media is a way to bridge the gap so the wrong message about what is going on with the company doesn’t get out, Dolewski said. It also helps to have an official with the company putting out the message that the company cares about its people, is concerned for its customers and that it will be open for business. It not only gives people a sense of calm, but if it is a public company, the stock market as well, he added.

Many companies dealt with a similar issue this winter when snow and ice got in the way of filling orders on time.

ProFlowers and its sister company, Shari’s Berries, took to Twitter to ease customers’ fears when snow kept Valentine’s Day orders from reaching their destinations, sending out updates every few hours, reported.

Not only did they use social media to get the word out, but then used Twitter and Facebook to find out what customers were saying about the situation, responding to each comment, Amy Toosley, director of public affairs and corporate relations at Provide-Commerce, the parent company of ProFlowers and Shari’s Berries, told Inc.

How about communicating with a company when disaster strikes?  If employees already know that business has ceased, the next logical piece of information to share with them would be when the business will be up and running again, right?

Emily Rahimi, the New York City Fire Department’s social media manager, found Twitter to be a good communication tool to broadcast information during Hurricane Sandy.

In a recent interview with Emergency Management, she discussed how social media use has grown within the fire department, including how more people use a social media platform to communicate information between the units.

During the hurricane, Rahimi said social media enabled the department to tell the public what was going on, but also tips on how to prepare for emergencies.

“That’s been helpful because it’s enabled me to get a lot more cooperation and maybe open more doors in terms of finding ways to use social media to help more groups in the department,” she said in the interview.

After, certain units are also looking to use social media to provide awareness tools for firefighters and EMS.

Just remember, though, you can’t always count on social media, Dolewski said. If power is a problem, most people’s cell phones will eventually not work. Plus, there is the problem of false positives – people passing along the message, but also adding their two cents, sometimes not correct information.

“Information is golden, and in this era, it comes out very fast,” he said. “If you can filter out speculation from fact and know how you are going to respond, you will be successful.”

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