Why You Should Tweet During a Crisis

Ever have one of those frustrating conversations with your colleagues during an emerging issue, where you’re trying to figure out whether acknowledging an issue online will defuse it or spread it?

You know, the one that goes something like:

A: “Have you seen all the chatter about this issue online? We should get out there and let people know what’s going on.”
B: “No – it’s only a few people – if we post about it more people will know there’s a problem.”

People have a natural reluctance to admit something is wrong. That’s all the more so online, where people can talk back and potentially ask uncomfortable questions. So, unless there’s someone with enough authority to stick-handle a response through the objections, this is often where a stalemate is reached.

Even if you do manage to convince people of the need to communicate, the time it takes to do the convincing often means that you miss the boat on getting your response out there in time for people to see it.

That’s why I was really interested to see a note from Shashi Bellamkonda of Network Solutions on the Social CRM Pioneers group, pointing to some interesting research by Microsoft and Psychster on the effect of companies acknowledging issues via Twitter on the actions and perceptions of customers.

The white paper, entitled “Using Twitter to Reassure Users During a Site Outage,” looks into the effects of a company informing people – or not – of an outage via Twitter, and the varying effectiveness of different approaches to doing so.

The conclusions provide some useful ammunition for those who advocate for a more proactive approach to managing issues via Twitter:

  1. Any kind of acknowledgement online will result in lowered negativity and improved perceptions, and may lead to fewer people calling your call centre
  2. Companies need to think about who posts the information, not just what is posted – a trusted community manager may be better than an executive or an anonymous company account
  3. Companies can improve the effectiveness of their acknowledgements by explaining the nature and cause of the issue

It’s particularly interesting that the study identified that the acknowledgements do more than just change perceptions; they also decrease the likelihood of people calling your call centre.

Change in likelihood to contact support

During a panel on online support at SxSW this year, Frank Eliason explained that he was able to calculate the tangible benefit from his team at Comcast by looking at the cost of their team, the number of people they helped and comparing that to the cost of those people calling their call centre.

Even the most math-averse person can tell that if you reduce the number of people calling you for information, and do it in a cost-effective way, it should be an easy sell.

What’s more, this is a two-pronged benefit – communicating via Twitter can lower your support costs while simultaneously improving peoples’ perception of your company. So, you’re not only lowering costs, you’re also potentially generating revenue in the long-term.


15 Responses toWhy You Should Tweet During a Crisis

  • Thanks for this Dave … a good argument for the integration of SM into BCP/COOP programs

  • Hi, Dave. Great article. I tell our clients that it is always best to address a crisis in public before moving the conversation onto a private channel. Social media acts as a superior customer service platform to call centers because multiple people can be addressed at once, erasing the redundancy of answering the same question for each individual person. It also demonstrates that the business is actively listening, social and cares about its customers’ opinions. As you say, lots of businesses fear that addressing a crisis in public will attract negative attention to the problem. However, this is simply not the case. People are going to talk about the problem regardless, so it’s better if the business experiencing the difficulty has its say on the matter. However, having never experienced a real online crisis myself, I have difficulty understanding when a conversation should be moved to a private channel. Perhaps it is when all questions with valuable answers to the public have been addressed. What do you think?

    • I don’t think there’s a standard “right answer” to that. Each situation is going to have a different context.

      My inclination would be to err towards dealing with things publicly, but with numerous caveats including whether the issue is around something that the organization has talked about publicly (public companies have to consider forward-looking information for example); whether there are privacy concerns; whether the information you can convey would be valuable for other people; and numerous other considerations.

      One useful perspective is that you can potentially solve many peoples’ problems with one post. That’s especially the case if you can post a resource on an owned property (blog, support forum, resource repository etc) to which you can point people.

      Also, from my experience, it’s amazing what a holding statement can achieve during an escalating issue.

  • Interesting article Dave. I think keeping people in the loop in a crisis is key and often people now turn to Twitter due to its immediacy.

    Just a couple of years ago many companies in the UK didn’t use Twitter for this type of activity but I see more and more brands and people embracing Twitter. Whether they own up to an outage or a problem before it becomes widely known remains to be seen but often if you tell people you are dealing with it that can really help nigate any future issues.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Interesting numbers Dave. You’re right “mum’s the word” just won’t cut it anymore; people will talk online anyway. It’s smart to tweet like this during a service outage, to respond to inquiries about the problem and yes, it will stop some call center calls and make the company seem proactive, on top of things. Of course, that only applies those customers who use Twitter and follow the brand. I’m w/ Patrice, this is good for integration and as Alexandra mentioned, a great way to direct conversation maybe to a blog or message board for more detailed information, determine when to maybe take some of the conversations private. FWIW.

  • Michelle
    ago10 years

    Dave, I totally agree about the tremendous value Twitter offers in crisis communications management. Take this a step further, and see how Twitter can help in true physical crises. Check out my blog post on how The Chicago Red Cross used Voluntweeters to help rescue the stranded during the big Chicago blizzard months ago. It’s at http://www.michelledamico.com/2011/02/twitter-red-cross-to-the-rescue-in-chicago-blizzard/

  • Jacqueline
    ago10 years

    Hi Dave—good post. I absolutely agree that companies must embrace Twitter and other social media channels during a PR crisis. Transparency is key. I dealt with a crisis myself a few months ago when a client misspoke about a sensitive issue during an interview on a national morning show. People and companies are going to make mistakes and sometimes in a very public forum. A very small slip up on the spokesperson’s behalf made it seem as though she might not have genuinely understood the issue she was speaking to, and while that really wasn’t the case, it made the client seem less credible. Our counsel was to act quickly by having the spokesperson and other top executives at the company use Twitter and Facebook to publicly admit to the mistake and apologize to those who were offended in any way. We also issued an apology on that same television program the following morning, and asked the program to use their social media channels to reiterate our message. We embraced social media and at the end of the day were able to minimize the negative attention caused by the interview.

  • Personally I have always supported the theory that it is a common folly to believe that talking about something makes it any better — some writer that I cant think of at the moment said something along those lines.

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