By, Gerard Braud
It is difficult to control what gets said on social media during a crisis. Often, the
misinformation that is spread rapidly on social media causes panic and potential harm.
Let’s look at a case study of Twitter gone bad when it hits the fan. When the Virginia Tech shooting occurred, Twitter was just at its launching point and was therefore not a factor. But in 2009 there was a gunman reported on the campus of the University of South Florida. Thank God the situation did not escalate into an actual shooting, because as you will see, Twitter has the potential to create chaos, fear and confusion.
When the gunman was first reported, the school used their text message system to notify students of the potential danger. Those text messages became tweets, which were re-tweeted in an endless cascade. The cascade of tweets reminded me very much of people who want their 15 minutes of fame when they are interviewed by traditional media. People long to be important and a re-tweet makes them feel good, feel smart and feel like they are making a difference. But with each passing minute they were doing potentially more harm than good.
When the all clear was given, it was sent to Twitter. But for the next few hours, tweets and re-tweets kept telling students to take cover because there was a gunman on campus. The university had lost control of the message and the rumor mill was hard at work.
To the university’s credit, they were using one of the platforms that I always suggest using, which was their official website. To their credit, they were using Twitter to both tweet the all clear and to include a link to the official website.
Since every company is vulnerable to mass shootings, part of every organizations crisis communications strategy should be to have software that can be automated to constantly re-tweet your all clear message. Applications such as Tweet Adder allow you to type in a message and schedule it to be re-tweeted as many times as you like and as frequently as you like. This means you can type in an all clear message, complete with hashtags for the event and a link to your official website. If you program it to tweet every five minutes, you will essentially be outshouting those well meaning people who think they are helping when they erroneously tweet a shooting is still under way.
Add to your to-do list to set time aside to discuss the damage that cascading re-tweets might have during your crisis. You also need to discuss how you will cope with this problem. Also, take time to download Tweet Adder or similar software, then learn to use it.