Social Media Must-Have Emergency Checklist

Social Media 911: Are Your Prepared?

Is your social media ready for an emergency? Hurricane Sandy is moving onto the east coast of the US. Has your organization thought through how to deal with the storm and its aftermath through the use of social media?

The best practice is to plan for an emergency before you’re confronted with one. This includes businesses that only have an online presence since a major weather event or other type of emergency may cause outages and other problems.

5 Reasons Social Media Is Critical During an Emergency

Here are five salient reasons organizations, including businesses and local governments, must leverage social media in an emergency.

  1. Social media distributes your information whether you leverage social media for emergency communications or not because others will share your messages there.
  2. Social media is used by those directly involved in the emergency. Other involved people will turn to social media because their contacts are there, it’s easy-to-access and it’s free.
  3. Social media provides communications redundancy when other options including email, mobile and mass media may not work.
  4. Social media disseminates information quickly without red tape or media fliters.
  5. Social media allows two-way communications for tracking and responding  to your community.

4 Constituencies For Which Every Organization Must Plan In an Emergency

From a business perspective, consider the impact an emergency will have on your operations across locations, employees, customers and the public. This translates into planning for each of these segments and how your organization will support them through the potential crisis.

  1. What do our employees expect us to do for them? Where is our business located? Where do we have a physical presence including both customer-facing and back office? What are the potential emergencies these locations may face?
  2. Where are our customers located? Is this different from your business? How can we contact or re-route product and services for affected customers.
  3. What do local organizations such as the police, fire department, Red Cross and others expect of our firm during an emergency?
  4. What does the public expect of our organization in this type of emergency? What needs to be on standby to do what needs to done? How do we work with the press?

 7 Step Social Media Emergency Checklist

To help you develop your organization’s social media emergency plan, here’s a seven point social media emergency checklist.  Based on your organization’s responses to your core constituencies, your plan details may vary. Additionally, depending on where your business is located, it may require a general emergency plan as well as ones for specific issues such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, fires and others.

  1. Create your emergency action plan including social media. Know how you’ll handle potential issues. Determine where you’ll integrate social media into your overall communications to ensure that it is effective and consistent.
  2. Build your social media presence before you need it. Create a set of home bases on social media to engage. Promote your presence and related hashtags so your constituents know where to turn in an emergency. To ensure that you have this connection in advance, use these outposts to deliver useful information during normal periods. (Here’s how to create a PR Crisis Plan.)
  3. Develop a set of policies around your social media interactions. The middle of an emergency isn’t the time to consider who can access various social media platforms and what they can post. At a minimum create a set of social media guidelines including policies around comments, personal data and access. Outline what information and comments will be deleted.
  4. Have a chain of command and backups in place. Determine who from your customer facing units, communications and senior management needs to be contacted, as well as their back ups. This list must be updated with personal mobile phone numbers and emails. Consider who will be contacted during off hours, weekends and holidays. (Here’s how to develop a social media contingency plan.)
  5. Back up your systems. Also ensure that you can restore your systems since social media runs on systems and systems and/or power can go down in an emergency. In addition to having a regular backup across your organization, make you practice bringing your system back. Also where needed, can you access your systems remotely to keep them going?
  6. Monitor the situation. You don’t want to be seen as stirring the fire to get people upset or anxious about the changing status.  It’s a fine line between being seen as helpful and ahead of the storm and being seen as taking advantage of the challenge. Use your social media platforms to project a calm, helpful message. (Here’s a checklist for real time PR communications.)
  7. Create useful information to help your target audience. Where possible develop this content in advance and work together with other local organizations to ensure that you’re not providing contradictory information.

Whether you plan to use social media or not during an emergency, your employees, customers and the public will because that’s how they communicate with their family and friends. Therefore, integrate social media into your emergency plans.

Are there any other tips that you’d add to this social media emergency checklist? If so, what are they?

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen

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