Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Five Lessons on Twittering During a Crisis: Lessons from Qantas

Twitter may still be a punchline for late night comics, but PR and communication functions can't treat it like a joke.

That's especially true during crises when information may be posted before traditional journalists can process the news. And I mean "process" in a good way -- checking out the information, confirming facts, etc. If journalism is history's first draft, then Twitter may be history's notes.

The Qantas incident is a case in point about Twitter. (Check out a good overview article here,
Qantas A380 incident: a lesson in social media and web PR.)

Apparently, at the same time Qantas responded to broadcast reports, the company ignored information on Twitter. Some bloggers correctly said that if Qantas was able to make statements to broadcast news outlets, it should have also posted the same response via Twitter.

I agree. But having worked with global companies, I think the problem with Qantas' response isn't that the company doesn't "get" Twitter.

I think some of the problem may have been structural. Here are some points global companies need to consider to effectively manage a crisis.
  1. Positive news about a company may only appeal to a specific in-country geography, but a crisis crosses borders. For example, we had a client that launched retail technology in England for a US company -- and every US-based outlet said they could only cover it when the technology was available in the US. (Despite multiple stores using that technology in England, we finally got coverage when a single store in Cleveland started testing the technology.) But bad news, as Qantas found out, isn't limited to Singapore and Sydney -- it can become global. Companies need to think about a global response, not just one focused in-country.
  2. Global companies need to make sure their communications functions are thinking globally. In this case, the communications team in Sydney may not have thought to respond on a Twitter account in the US because the accident occurred en route from Singapore to Sydney. Part of the problem, as we've seen with some global clients, is that communications functions are distributed by geography, with little interaction or coordination among teams. Instead, companies should consider a global response so that PR functions in different countries have the tools -- latest information, for example -- to respond to reporters and bloggers in their own countries, even if the crisis happened overseas.
  3. Global companies need to make sure to prepare for and incorporate social media as part of their response to a crisis. But they also need to make sure in-country PR functions think globally during a crisis. After all, even if Quantas had thought about updating its US Twitter feed, it would not be unusual for the communications team in Sydney to not have the password for the US Twitter feed.
  4. Companies need a better way to manage their social media assets, and a crisis is a bad time to find out that you're not prepared. We've seen a number of global companies that have different Facebook pages and Twitter IDs for each geography and language, which makes sense for day-to-day business. The problem is that key communications people in other geographies should be able to update social media sites in cases of emergencies. (If it's not an emergency, people outside the geography would have no need to update the site.) Instead, companies should develop a comprehensive list of all social media accounts, user names and passwords from all geographies, as well as the "owner's" names and contact info, in one document. For example, it's not enough for each geography to compile a list of all social media accounts, user names and passwords -- a step that I'm sure most companies do not take (but should). That way, if a crisis occurs in Sydney, there's someone in Sydney who can post information on the US Twitter account without having to wait several hours before being able to connect to someone in the US who can find the person with access to the Twitter account. With that comprehensive document, key people in different geographies can update accordingly and on a timely basis.
  5. Global companies should consider maintaining a global corporate Twitter ID to address global issues.Apparently, Qantas only had two accounts, one for the US market and one for travel agents. Not enough -- because where do people in other locations turn to for information?
For more insight, check out Matt Wilson's article on Ragan.com, "Qantas’s big #fail in quelling tweeted rumors of a crash."

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