Vivian Marinelli is Senior Director of Crisis Management Services for FEI Behavioral Health. She holds a doctorate degree in clinical psychology and is a licensed psychologist in Wisconsin. She brings more than 20 years of experience in direct clinical services specializing in trauma and grief counseling to her position, which focuses on assisting individuals involved in critical incidents. She is responsible for leading and directing a full complement of emergency support services for corporate customers in accordance with industry requirements, company policies and procedures as well as overseeing the internal and external FEI Crisis Support Team members to ensure a high level of response capability.
When disaster strikes, it’s easy to get caught up in the minutia of problem solving. Whether it’s a natural disaster, civil unrest, an active shooter or another type of large-scale crisis situation, attention is focused on assessing the scale and scope of the situation, notifying the emergency response teams and ensuring that medical and safety needs are addressed. Executing all the necessary tasks in a high-pressure setting along with keeping everyone updated with current information on your response, without forgetting an important step, can be a challenge.
No matter the crisis, remember that those in need of information extend beyond those directly impacted. With today’s 24-hour news cycle, we’re used to receiving breaking news on our smartphones, computers, tablets and TVs. A lack of communication from an organization during a crisis is quickly recognized and perceived in a negative light. During the first 24 hours of a crisis, response teams are so focused on managing the situation that they sometimes fail to effectively communicate with outside audiences and track public opinion, which can potentially lead to brand/reputation damage and potential safety concerns.
Monitoring social media during a crisis is vital. Platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram provide a broad audience with news delivered in a far more instantaneous fashion than traditional media can. Effective social media management during a crisis helps communicate safety information to relevant audiences and monitor the pulse of public opinion. It also can help communicate information on your organizational response, which will help to prevent the spread of rumors, misinformation and false narratives.
News travels fast on social media; personal reports from the site of a crisis, whether accurate or not, can go viral in front of the eyes of thousands in minutes. In fact, speed can be both a blessing and a curse on social media during a crisis situation.
People at the scene of a crisis may post information and photos that may be taken out of context without knowing the whole story. These initial posts often get reposted on Facebook and Twitter, and get picked up by news outlets, leading to the mass distribution of unvetted information about a situation you’re in the process of managing with both internal and external resources. These initial posts may stir up a frenzy of reports in the media that are eventually proven to be inaccurate or false. However, in the meantime, your communications team will need to not only get the accurate information out but also address the misinformation as well.
Social media messages also are persistent. Active engagement can keep stories in circulation for hours or, depending on the situation, days. These posts do not always clearly identify the source so the identity can be easily hidden. It makes it much easier for someone to post or comment on a situation when there’s no onus on them to prove the statements. When your official messages finally appear in social media feeds, potential contradictions with previously distributed information from external sources can lead to confusion and distrust. Timely posts on social media and monitoring false or misleading information is critical to addressing messages on social media. And tracking false or misleading information early is critical to handling both negative opinions and potentially harmful situations.
Tracking of news and messages on social media is especially challenging during major crises. Even large event firms can run into limits on just how much their employees can manage at once while in the thick of a crisis. Hiring an outside crisis communications service provider to assist with social media monitoring can prove invaluable when keeping lines of communication open.
External crisis management and public relations service providers have years of experience helping clients draft templates for initial holding statements both for social and traditional media outlets and updates on the crisis response, which will help to keep the community informed during a crisis situation. Increasing the messaging generated by the organization will allow the event planners to focus on the details of the onsite support, help to decrease confusion and increase trust with the organization to provide information.
External crisis and PR firms are highly effective at monitoring what people are saying about your organization both during the crisis and afterwards. These firms will track and document the posts and sources to provide your organization with a summary of what is being said about the response on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social platforms.
Gathering positive feedback can be conducive to keeping morale up during trying times. Firms can share kind comments and words of encouragement with team members to reinforce that the work they’re doing is important and that they’re making an impact. Keeping spirits high is important when it comes to recovering from a potentially traumatic crisis situation.
Negative feedback provides your organization valuable information on where it may need to focus attention currently or to adapt for future crisis events. Sometimes negative comments arise from errors in communication, and sometimes they arise from issues with your actions. An external service provider will use negative comments to help draft responses and, in extreme cases, offer guidance on changing organizational behavior to satisfy the public.
Consider retaining your external crisis communication team to help with the recovery phase as well. Compiling all social media feedback received during an event will provide an understanding of what your event team or organization is doing well and what work still needs to be done to win back public trust.
Social media has created a culture of information that is virtually instant, but difficult to verify. When a crisis strikes at your event, false reports and misinformation threaten to damage your brand, your client, the venue and public safety. Being savvy about social media will save reputations—yours and your client’s — and prepare the organization for effective communication and response tracking before disaster strikes. C&IT