Social media is everywhere. It’s in coffee shops, at tourist attractions, even walking down the street. People are constantly cataloguing what is happening in their lives on social media with photos, news articles and trendy hashtags. And this is especially true when emergencies arise. Loved ones reach out, asking if they are ok. Photos still get taken, and sometimes the event is live-streamed as it occurs. With 2.06 billion Facebook users and 328 million Twitter users worldwide,* that’s a LOT of news going out! So what is the place of social media from a business continuity perspective? What should companies and employees be doing, and not doing, on social media during and after events?
Like most things, social media has pros and cons. This is especially true within the context of business continuity. As a reminder, business continuity and emergency response are not the same thing, but they also must work together to be successful. Allowing certain things to happen during an emergency may set an unwanted precedent for the business continuity response. So, let’s start with the cons.
Social media cons
Some things can (and do) go wrong when personal social media accounts are used to relay information during emergencies.
1. Rumours spread. It is very easy for rumours to spread; in the case where there might be an active shooter, rumours might pop up that there are actually 2 or 3 different shooters in different locations. This can cause more panic in the people directly in the situation. It also causes problems for emergency responders. Often police will monitor social media to learn what is happening as the event occurs, and rumours can cause them to track down false leads. This can cause a significant delay in restoring order.
2. News of injured loved ones is sensationalized. People that take photos or videos of an emergency situation and then post them online can actually be (unknowingly) informing the family of a loved one that they have been injured or killed. Family and friends might recognize clothes, purses, tattoos or other identifying markers in pictures and videos. Think about how you would want to learn this type of tragic news. This information should be coming from the police, not a picture online. Treat all victims with dignity and respect.
3. Inconsistent company messages can be sent to stakeholders. Communications during emergency situations are critical for businesses. Organizations that have a good business continuity plan will have a solid communications strategy. This usually includes an authorized message that contains the information stakeholders need to know. The use of social media can mean mixed messages are received, which in turn decreases the public’s faith in the business experiencing the incident, and lost revenue.
Social media Pros
Don’t worry, there is still hope! Social media networks in business continuity situations do have some positives to them, too.
1. Corporate accounts can provide private updates. Keep private users (usually employees) that follow their employer’s accounts up to date on the company’s status. Employees can then get updates in real time, and understand what their responsibilities and expectations are. Twitter in particular offers an option to have a private account that only specific followers are able to see. Users can also respond as needed.
2. Corporate accounts can provide public updates. Building on the private update piece, corporate accounts can also keep customers and vendors in the loop on their public page. Send out the appropriate messaging, again in real time, to keep everyone up to date.
3. Check in to apps to let loved ones know you are safe. There are a number of different apps out there that you can download to your device to let people know you are safe. The American Red Cross developed one called “Emergency! App” for events like natural disasters. Conversely, there are also apps out there to let you know if you are in danger based on your geographical location. France’s “SAIP” app is probably the most well-known of these.
To use social media, or not to use, that is the question!
Ultimately the decision whether to use social media falls on the individual. It’s true that organizations may write policies about what business specific information should and should not be communicated, and the medium to be used. But, it is up to each and every person to follow those policies (even with the possible repercussions). Corporate culture will also play a large part in whether social media is a viable option for any business to use as a communication tool. Regardless of the answer to this important question, we do know that millions of individuals are using social media anyway. So what will you choose: to use, or not to use?
* These numbers are total users, and do not differentiate between actual users and fake accounts.
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