Weathering the Storm: The Role of Social Media in Crisis Management

By Patti Podnar

tpsdave / Pixabay

In the summer of 2003, I was standing in my sunroom, holding my six-month-old little boy in my arms, and watching the willow tree in my backyard bend over until it was almost parallel with the ground. In the aftermath of the straight-line wind storm that came to be known as Hurricane Elvis, winds with gusts that topped 100 mph knocked out power to much of the Memphis metropolitan area. Some people were without power for three weeks.

Fast-forward to Memorial Day weekend of 2017, and the as-yet-to-be-named storm (contenders are Return of Elvis and Memphis in Mayhem) followed in Hurricane Elvis’s footsteps. Fortunately, not as many people were impacted, because Elvis had already taken out most of the older, weaker trees. Still, at one point, almost 50% of the local utility company’s customers were without power.

However, while the storms and their impacts were similar, there was one big difference: Social media wasn’t a thing in 2003. In 2017, Memphis Light, Gas, and Water (MLGW) had to work almost as hard on social outreach via Facebook and Twitter as they did on line repair.

And that’s where things went bad. Somebody (not an MLGW employee) tried to explain the difference between “number of customers” and “number of people affected,” and things got ugly fast:

social media

Somebody clearly had too little sleep and too much coffee. What the poster was trying to say was that an account is associated with an address, and there are often multiple people living at any single address.

First, let me say that I get it. When it’s summer in Memphis (contrary to popular belief, it’s both the heat AND the humidity) and people are without power for days on end, nobody likes the utility company unless the trucks are on their own street. Still, as much as social media gives you a great PR opportunity, it also gives you the opportunity to shoot yourself in the foot. So let’s look at some rules for how NOT to do that:

  1. Don’t get defensive. Whether you’re taking too long to restore power to thousands of hot, sweaty people who are sitting there watching their food spoil, or hauling passengers off of planes for random infractions, just don’t. When your business — even if it’s due to something that’s out of your control — makes your customers’ lives harder, you’re going to get some snark. Don’t snark back. That projects what politicians refer to as being out of touch. Don’t sit there in your office — which clearly has power — and chastise people for being cranky that their grocery bill for the month is going to double. Take your lumps, whether you think you deserve them or not.
  2. Stop, breathe, and think. I am grateful every day that the internet wasn’t around when I was a teenager with insufficient impulse control. Not too long ago, people like this unfortunate employee would have encountered barriers that allowed time for common sense to kick in. Those barriers are Go to the full article.

    Source:: Business 2 Community

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