Could Social Media Have Strengthened the Flight #3407 Response?

Last week at the PRSA 2009 Northeast District Conference, I attended a packed session where the crisis comms team for the crash of Flight #3407 shared their strategy and lessons learned. The panel had representatives from nearly every facet of the response team and the media, including Grant Loomis, communications director for Erie County Executive […]

Last week at the PRSA 2009 Northeast District Conference, I attended a packed session where the crisis comms team for the crash of Flight #3407 shared their strategy and lessons learned. The panel had representatives from nearly every facet of the response team and the media, including Grant Loomis, communications director for Erie County Executive […]

Last week at the PRSA 2009 Northeast District Conference, I attended a packed session where the crisis comms team for the crash of Flight #3407 shared their strategy and lessons learned. The panel had representatives from nearly every facet of the response team and the media, including Grant Loomis, communications director for Erie County Executive Christopher Collins and Brian Meyer, reporter with the Buffalo News.

What I found particularly impressive was that this team from a rural area in Clarence, NY, who had never experienced a disaster of this magnitude and found themselves on the front line of a national crisis, seamlessly lead a swift and efficient response that comms teams and experienced crisis professionals across the country are now learning from. By quickly establishing their goals (below) and roles and responsibilities, anticipating the questions to come each day and communicating in one clear voice through their strategic tactics (below), they’ve become an impressive crisis comms example. Need a quick proof point about their effectiveness? The first official press conference about the crash happened within one hour. Contrast this with the rampage at the American Civic Center in Binghamton, NY, where the first official press conference was held 8 hours after the crisis.

But the session did leave me with one lingering question: Was there a role for social media in the response that was overlooked? Social media isn’t always the answer and shouldn’t be a strategy by itself. Yet there are some clear ways that social media could have support and aligned with the crisis comms goals. Below I’ve broken out each goal, the tactic the response team deployed and a potential social media idea:

Response Goals The Traditional Strategy Potential Social Media Complement
Get Out Timely Information
  • Provided a war room for the media at the library next to the Clarence Town Hall
  • Hosted three press conferences at prescheduled times each day so the media would know when to expect new information
  • Set up an official response blog and Twitter handle so that confirmed information can be disseminated as soon as the response team has it and does not have to wait until press conference – will satiate media and bloggers.
Ensure It’s Accurate & Reduce Misinformation
  • Anticipate the questions each day and how they will change; get in front of the Q&A session to shape the message
  • Authorize a set of spokespeople who are the official voice of the response
  • Don’t say anything to the media until it has been confirmed; release bits of information as they are confirmed
  • Set up a process to listen to social media conversations to help guide messaging for press conferences and blog posts.
  • Use the official blog and Twitter handle to respond to misinformation and give social media users accurate content to share across their channels.
Protect the Victims
  • Direct any victim inquiries to the American Red Cross
  • Use Counselor as a spokesperson to satisfy media appetite
  • Do not disclose any personal details until confirmed and family gives permission
  • Provide services like counseling to aid in their grief
  • Build a private social network to give victims’ families access to Red Cross counselors and information and the ability to build a community and share their experiences no matter where they are in the world.
Don’t Overlook an Audience
  • The three press conferences each day were designed to provide information to each audience, for example: local community in the morning (traffic, clean-up, health concerns) and national media in the afternoon.
  • Create a blog that focuses on ways people can help; this will avoid promotion of any scams and channel the assistance to have the most impact.

I welcome your thoughts. Would social media have strengthened or fragmented the response? Have you used social media as part of your response to a crisis?

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