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Guest

Crisis Communications from An Unlikely Source

By: Guest | May 26, 2011 | 
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Stacey Hood serves as marketing director for Momentum Communications,  based in Birmingham, and is a founding board member for Alabama Social Media Association.

Crisis communications, like many other areas in the typical PR practice, have changed dramatically with social media.

Long gone are the days of the simple one-way reactive plan. There are many sources of crisis communications and it’s necessary to think of the variety of sources you, as a PR pro can draw upon to share the messages.

Thanks to social networks such as Twitter, this source can be an audience member, a pro or, in the case of a natural event, even someone completely unexpected, such as a TV meteorologist.

In the state of Alabama, immense damage was done by a multitude of tornadoes touching down in heavily-populated areas. Entire cities have been wiped off of the map and almost 300 reported dead or missing.

When the storm system that was responsible for these tornadoes started, Birmingham-based meteorologist, James Spann, started using various social networks to supplement his television broadcast and coverage of this life-changing event.

As an early adoptor of social media, Spann is familiar with various social networks, but used Twitter primarily to broadcast warnings and forecasts for the paths of the tornadoes in central Alabama thanks to the fact that power was lost and a large majority of people were able to stay in contact with the Twitter stream coverage. Spann credits Twitter with being able to get most of the warnings out to more people.

In addition to Spann’s coverage and early warnings, other major companies in the state used social media for its crisis communications. Alabama Power, for example, took advantage of the reach of Twitter and broadcast hourly updates of power outages, warnings of downed power lines, announced areas in which shelter was being provided and other statements that previously would have been broadcasted or written about too late.

Individuals used the social network themselves to announce if local stores were running low on much-needed supplies like diapers, bottled water, non-perishable food, etc. Local charities then started using hashtags on Twitter such as #ALNeeds thanks to Spann’s efforts for those involved in local recovery programs.

We are constantly bombarded with reminders to prepare before it’s too late for incidents such as tornadoes; Not only in our personal lives but also in our professional lives as marketers and PR practitioners. It is also important to remember that crisis communications can come in many forms and from unexpected sources.

Stacey Hood serves as marketing director for Momentum Communications,  based in Birmingham, and is a founding board member for Alabama Social Media Association. His website, Thinking Out Loud, showcases his thoughts and beliefs towards marketing, public relations and life in general.

 

 

9 comments
KristenHeptin
KristenHeptin

James Spann spoke at TedXRedMountain here in Birmingham about 2 weeks ago. He said that a TV meteorologist shouldn't have to be doing this -- this meaning coordinating relief efforts via social media. Many grassroots groups stepped up to do what disaster agencies and local EMAs should have been doing -- but, it's been a learning experience for everyone, and I have high hopes for the performance of coordinating agencies during the next natural disaster. Because there *will* be one.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

Stacey! I have to admit I was shocked to read this. It's smart, well thought-out, and really good. I expected snark and cynicism. :) In all seriousness, thanks for the guest post and for the Alabama perspective on Mother Nature. It's nice to see traditional media using the new tools to help them communicate.

KaryD
KaryD

As you probably know, I'm quite close to your network of Alabamians from a social media perspective. Watching the tweets emerge was humbling, inspiring, and downright heartbreaking, at times. But, it gave me a totally different perspective on the situation - the HUMAN perspective - that I would not have had if I relied on traditional news sources.

laurielizsmith
laurielizsmith

I get most of my news from Twitter and during the storm it had the most update information. Spann was awesome tweeting information and retweeting information to get people connected!

StaceyHood
StaceyHood

@ginidietrich Thanks Gini! I didn't want my first post to be snarky! I was struggling with how to get this together & I was reminded of what happened here during the tornadoes. I cranked it out in about 10 minutes. (don't hate the player, hate the game!)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@KaryD I LOVE this..."the human perspective." It's so true. I don't know if it's because I'm getting older, because of social media, or because Mother Nature has been extremely cruel this year, but it seems worse than normal. I keep waiting for something to happen in Chicago.

StaceyHood
StaceyHood

@KaryD You're right, Kary, it brought a whole new perspective on things and even after seeing the damage that was so close to my own home, it still seems surreal. We're 30 days out from it and it's going to take a long time for everyone to get over it.

KaryD
KaryD

@ginidietrich I think it's probably a combination of all three, Gini. The cruel irony, sometimes, is that we're more "connected," yet when tragedy strikes, we realize how far away we are. Then, a Tornado hit Minneapolis. And, because of the human perspective I've been getting, you darn well better believe I'm more motivated to find a way to help.

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