Emergency Response Plans in the Age of Social Media

With the emergence of social media, everyone can be a reporter. This means the release of information during a crisis has become a lot quicker. Emergency Response Plans (ERPs) must evolve to include a social media policy. Take a look at how you can use social media to your advantage, and how you can manage risks from other users?

The social media turning point

When the Asiana Airlines Flight 214 from Seoul to San Francisco crashed on the morning of July 6, 2013, the incident became a turning point for many companies regarding social media during an emergency. The news was online within seconds and spread like wildfire. Eyewitnesses, even passengers, had instantly taken to their mobiles to share the incident with the world. During the first hour alone, there were up to 50,000 tweets talking about Asiana Airlines. The companies involved were left scrambling to take control of the narrative. The concept of the “Golden Hour”, the time it took companies to assess the situation and activate an ERP, became a thing of the past.

When you decide to implement social media usage in your ERP, make sure it’s quick and easy to use, because you’ll have to execute the first steps immediately. Social media can be used either to the advantage or to the detriment of your operation. It’s important to understand how both sides work.

How to use social media to your advantage

Operators can use social media in two ways during a crisis:

  • To communicate to stakeholders and the public

Nowadays, posting a statement on social media is equivalent to releasing a press announcement. It’s good practice to use social media for regular updates to build trust, show transparency and establish yourself as the go-to entity for updates on the situation. Keep in mind that if you plan to participate in the investigation, any updates pertaining to the investigation you share will first need to be approved by the investigative authority (in the U.S., that is the National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB).

  • To monitor news and rumors

Keep an eye on local news outlets around the area of the incident and online chatter. That way you can swiftly intervene in case of misinformation. There will likely be witness reports, photos and video of the incident, and lots of speculation in the absence of conclusive facts. Make sure you also follow the investigative authority’s social media accounts (for the NTSB, there’s the @ntsb_newsroom).

Smaller operators could use a third-party ERP provider to monitor these channels, as resources will potentially be tied up during an emergency.

The flip side of social media

While putting social media to good use, keep these potential risks in mind:

  • People outside your organization

Thanks to smartphones and social channels, anyone can be a reporter nowadays. What they choose to share about an incident that involves you; however, is often more likely to harm than help. If someone posts an image of the incident on social media, people may recognize faces, company logos, or aircraft registration numbers.

  • People inside your organization

Company employees need to be extremely careful about discussing the incident online. Information should come from one appointed source in an organization. Employees who don’t adhere to that rule, even on their personal accounts, could potentially harm those affected by the incident – including those involved or loved ones. For example, they might share the name of someone affected, making this information public before there has been a chance to notify that person’s family. They also run the risk of compromising the company’s ability to participate in the investigation should they release facts or speculation pertaining to the investigation, since their shared information would not be approved by the investigative authority. Finally, unvetted, unconfirmed rumors could seriously impact the company’s reputation.

How do you wisely implement social media in your ERP?

There are 4 things you should do to when developing policies regarding social media use during an emergency.

  • Set clear policies on social media. Prepare this well in advance and make sure your staff knows the rules inside out. What to do, what not to do, and how to handle questions. They should also be well-versed in deploying the ERP, as well as their role in it.
  • Appoint a communications officer. They’re responsible for working with the corporate office. If there’s no corporate office, they’re the one dealing with the media. Everything should come from one source, and one source only.
  • Twitter is the fastest social media channel, and the one most likely to be used in a crisis. Get on there, get monitoring, and know how to use the platform. If you want to be fully prepared, you can create Twitter lists of local news channels and airports of the regions your aircraft are flying to.
  • Coordinate with your HR and External Communications departments on these policies. Planning for an emergency begins long before anything goes wrong. Consider simulation exercises with all parties involved to train everyone on their role and the cooperation between them. Coordination will also ensure your company knows what to expect from the Flight Department to help avoid any surprises.

Our Emergency Response Plans have an incorporated social media policy. If you have any questions on how our ERPs work, feel free to reach out.