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Emergency? Check Twitter – Works for Companies Too

For the socialrati, Twitter can be a lifeline of ideas, insights, and social connections. For others, tweets and status updates may not be considered vital.  However, a string of natural and man-made disasters has shown that social media can be a lifeline for victims and responders in emergencies.  If you’re used to thinking about social networking tools as non-essential, think about the ways they can create resiliency, for communities and companies in disaster situations (think Tylenol, not Toyota).

The use of social media is pervasive and growing.  According to Edison Research, more than 40 million Americans use social media Web sites multiple times a day.  Thus, it is natural that when a disaster hits, people turn to these tools to connect and exchange information. Here’s an infographic showing How We Use Social Media During Emergencies courtesy of Mashable and CreditLoan.

After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, A commentary for the New England Journal of Medicine reports that an open-source Web platform called Ushahidi “linked health care providers requiring supplies, to those who had them, and victims trapped under the rubble used Facebook to reach out for help.”

Likewise, residents looking for answers in the wake of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami turned to social sites to track down friends and family, train schedules and even electricity outages. According to the Nielsen NetRatings, Twitter’s Japan audience grew by a third to 7.5 million users during March 7-13 compared with the previous week.

Companies are communities that experience disasters too.  They can leverage these same social tools to help avert or respond to the crises they face. Here are a couple of scenarios for upping company resilience:

Natural disaster – A company wants to track and keep its employees safe when a flood, tsunami, or hurricane hits. Facebook, Google+ or Twitter could all notify employees as part of an early warning system with information about where to go and how to access company and emergency information.  Once disaster strikes, services like Foursquare could allow employees to check in, ensuring an accurate count of safe and missing employees. A Twitter feed could provide status updates and notify employees about available resources and where help is needed. Employees sharing images and text about the situation also creates a community news feed that keeps people in the know and connected.

Product disaster – A product shortage, recall or defect, a safety calamity or a service outage are crises that companies often struggle to address early and well.  To be more Tylenol than Toyota in response to a product issue and potential brand disaster, companies can use social channels to effectively notify and engage customers and the media, providing critical enhancements to crisis management.  Status updates, contact information and customer feedback can all be made instantly available via Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.  Using these channels can show a proactive approach that will yield brand loyalty over time.  In most cases, it’s not the problem itself but how the problem is handled that makes or breaks the customer’s experience.

Does your company use social tools for crisis management?  Which ones and how?

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