Mother Nature's wrath meets her match in social media

PR pros often speak to their clients or coworkers about how certain digital activities "fit in" the toolbox.

PR pros often speak to their clients or coworkers about how certain digital activities “fit in” the toolbox. They are regularly greeted with the following responses, “Who else is doing it that way?” or “How would we ever use that?”

Well, you may be in luck.

The recent successful use of social media platforms such as Twitter or Facebook to provide vital information before, during, and after crisis situations should probably solidify how these services – and others – can help us do our jobs better and faster.

While there has been a lot of buzz about some of the ways the airline industry has used social media to deal with the volcanic ash cloud, it's not the only example to lean on.

Recently, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation noted some significant increases in Web traffic and its number of fans and followers when it used digital tools during significant rain and flooding. The department published road closures and other announcements as they happened.

In a recent column, I addressed the concept of a hub-and-spoke way of looking at your organization's digital. As it applies to crisis, however, it is really no different from how we have determined which tool to disseminate information (or gather it). Except maybe there are some new tools in the box, including SMS, Twitter, Facebook, and more.

Where there was once a press conference, many of us now use Ustream. Where we once relied on radio reporters (or maybe the telephone call-down list for school snow days), now we lean on tweets and re-tweets.

What's next? Will geolocation applications be a way of tracking our friends and family after a natural disaster such as an earthquake?

At the end of the day, what really matters is that we're constantly paying attention to where our audience is. It doesn't mean we ignore other means that work well. We still may have press conferences. We still may contact our local radio stations and media websites.

However, when immediacy is part of the equation, there are communities that need to be included and solid tools at our disposal to tap into them.

It's clear that Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and whatever comes next have gone from being something that “only tech-addicted people use regularly” to reaching much more of a mainstream audience, based on some of these success stories.

The more we hear “I learned about this solution on Twitter,” “Didn't you see that in your Facebook feed?” or “I heard about the cancellation from the text the school just sent me” stories, the more this will become abundantly clear.

Tom Biro is a VP at Allison & Partners in Seattle. His column focuses on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached at tom@allisonpr.com.

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