Jan 28, 2011

Effective Use of Social Media in Crisis Communications

Allan Schoenberg, director of communications, CME Group, and our most recent guest on #ConnectChat

On the last Tuesday of each month, ProfNet hosts ConnectChat, a monthly series of Twitter chats exploring key communications and media topics. During our most recent ConnectChat, Allan Schoenberg, director of communications for CME Group, discussed the role of social media in crisis communications and how companies can use it to respond quickly to developing crises.

The first step in creating a crisis management plan, said Schoenberg, is by knowing your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats – what he calls “SWOT.” While you won’t be able to prepare for every crisis, knowing your SWOT is a great start.

It’s also important to build relationships across the enterprise — IT, legal, products, etc. Once you get it going, you will learn, change and evolve — “Crisis planning is always in motion,” said Schoenberg — but those relationships will help you, as will the relationships you’ve built with journalists. “A crisis will show if you’ve done your legwork ahead of time. These are long-term relationships — not just when you need them if there’s a crisis.”

In terms of social media, Twitter has become a vital platform in monitoring crises. “The real-time aspect [of Twitter] is a game-changer for PR,” Schoenberg said. “It is also a great platform to communicate during a crisis and talk with stakeholders about what’s going on.”

“When you have messages, facts, stories, etc., use social media to communicate,” he continued. “But it’s social media, so remember to have a plan to take feedback and do something with it.

If you do find that your company is about to get, or already getting, negative publicity, it’s important to act quickly, but thoughtfully. “Confirm all that you can,” advised Schoenberg. “Facts are vital and important.”

Next, get the right spokesperson. “Having the right person speak is absolutely critical and can make all the difference,” said Schoenberg.

Finally, be consistent, “but know that you may have to adapt and change as the story changes. But stay on message.”

Ultimately, you have to know what you stand for as an organization, and always stand behind it. And, above all, remain calm. “It’s easy to overreact, but others are looking to you to get through it,” said Schoenberg. “Be a leader and a voice of reason. That being said, know when you need to kick things into high gear.”

To read the full transcript of our ConnectChat with Schoenberg, visit the ProfNet Connect social network at http://bit.ly/crisischat

Author Maria Perez is director of news operations for ProfNet, a service that helps journalists find expert sources. You can read more from Maria at her blog on ProfNet Connect, a free social network connecting PR professionals, experts and the media: http://www.profnetconnect.com/profnetmaria/blog/

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