4 Golden Rules for Tweeting During a Crisis

Posted on April 25th 2013

4 Golden Rules for Tweeting During a Crisis

ImageThe events of last week concerning the Boston Marathon bombing as well as the recent hacking of the AP Twitter feed had community and social media managers everywhere on high radar when it came to looking after the company and personal Twitter accounts alike.

Tweets were pouring in, but many contained misleading information and links making it difficult to figure out what to retweet, and if it was even possible to attempt at all. Hashtags only compounded this problem and eventually it seemed as though the most logical thing to do was to skip RT’ing and MT’ing altogether in favor of an original tweet.

But when there are so many apps and free websites available to choose from to sync an account up for scheduled tweets, and with so many businesses opting for tweet scheduling in an effort to cut back on time and expense, can the original tweet that acknowledges a crisis cut in?

Absolutely. All those out there who manage Twitter accounts for companies, take a second to jot down these four golden rules for tweeting during a crisis.

1) Stop scheduling tweets – or avoid tweeting altogether.

I’m an organic tweeter. Always have been, always will be. This applies to the work account as well as my own. I believe in tweeting on the spot, not round the clock to prove that I’m so on top of the internet that not even 5 minutes whiz by without me getting my 140 characters in. I’m not alone in that respect either. A PR friend of mine, Allyson Pryor, agrees that the strategy of scheduling tweets out is only asking for trouble. Internal scheduling glitches aside, Pryor put it into perspective by saying, “You wake up and realize your company sent out dumb tweets amidst a crisis taking place on the East Coast. #fail”

So much #fail indeed. Unless the company you manage the social media accounts for is rooted within the journalism and communications industry, now’s the time to un-schedule your tweets. And in some cases, the closer to home the crisis is the best it may be to abstain from tweeting altogether as a sign of respect. Just be sure to send out a quick tweet beforehand to alert any fans about why you’re opting from tweeting for the time being, to keep everyone in the loop.

2) Avoid use of the #breaking or #breakingnews hashtag.

Most unfortunately, hashtags for #breaking and #breakingnews and even just tweets containing the words minus the pound signs included have been put through the wringer and then some. What was once a hashtag meant to accompany a tweet that addressed serious concerns wound up being used in a mocking sense across the board, targeted especially towards Twitter accounts releasing stats too soon without any source cited.

When in doubt of any kind, don’t add this hashtag to a tweet. And on a personal level, if you’re only adding it in an effort to drive traffic and higher followers toward your Twitter account in the midst of an emergency, I’d strongly consider you ask yourself exactly why you’re tweeting in the first place.

3) Show careful respect in composing original tweets.

My biggest tip on composing a tweet that expresses your concern during a time of crisis and shows solidarity with others is to do so from the heart. Keep it simple, to the point, and respectful. Call no one out, place no blame, and emphasize that everyone on board (not just you, unless you’re a one-person organization) shares the same concern and sends their best too.

4) Change your passwords.

It’s not pleasant to do and if you’re used to having Google Chrome remember the site login information for you with every visit made, it’ll take a moment to adjust to the new passwords. Twitter has already begun working on a two-step verification process to prevent future hackings from taking place, but while it remains unclear as to when this will roll out (or how) now’s the time to take a moment and change the passwords on your Twitter account – remember to make them a little complicated to figure out with caps, numbers, and underscores when appropriate!

image: tweet/shutterstock

howveryheather

Heather Taylor

Heather Taylor is a social media manager, freelance writer, and blogger. She has had her written work published with Yahoo! Shine, Forbes, The Shriver Report, Social Media Monthly, BettyConfidential, HelloGiggles, The Huffington Post, and more. Contact her on Twitter @howveryheather or directly email howveryheather@gmail.com.

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Comments

Thanks, Heather, for this insightful and spot-on article. My experience at the Boston Marathon bombings underscores all of your points, and I'm sharing it here to help all of us social media "experts" understand the real-life application of this increasingly powerful communications tool.

I was among the many people who rushed in after the bombs detonated. I was on the scene of the first explosion not more than 30 seconds following detonation. After helping treat victims, I left the scene. I returned to the office above the finish line (where I was attending a post-race party) and took a photo.

Twenty minutes after the first explosion I posted that photo to Twitter. The photo--looking down on the scene of the first bomb--was RT'ed 5,000 times and favorited almost 400 times. The Associated Press distributed it world wide. That photo was the first from the scene, and it was disseminated via social media.

I didn't schedule the photo. I didn't tag it #breaking or #breakingnews. This is what I wrote: Bomb at finish.

As Heather recommends, I didn't opine. I merely posted what I saw, keeping it simple and to the point. I felt people needed to know what happened, and I knew the quickest way to do so was through social media. 

Bruce, I can't thank you enough for sharing this with me as I have seen that photo circulate online like wildfire. Thank you for sharing as you did on Twitter - simply and straight to the point.

Thanks so much for including me, Heather! This article is fantastic and I couldn't agree more with what you are saying. I think companies have this belief that in order to be successful with social media, they need to be tweeting around 24/7 around the clock, and it's simply not the case. When you schedule tweets, you're essentially taking your hands off the wheel, and we all know that leads to a loss of control. Be organic, be human. It's that simple. 

Awesome read. Hope anyone managing social media takes note! 

Of course, Allyson! Putting two social media minds together is always greater than working off of just one and I do love talking to all of the people who work within this field - the conversations are always so on point. What companies need to be doing, and they won't like hearing this but too bad, is to hire a social media team to work with them and represent their brand and the voice behind that brand. Who schedules in their voice? Who would seriously think to themselves in real life, "Hey, I have something to say but I should probably wait until 9 AM to start saying it because I think if I wait until then, more people might listen in." People are always listening. You just need to join the conversation.

Great comments.  In the wake of the Boston and Sandy Hook tragedies I realized just how vital social media channels can be.  With family and friends in both locations, Facebook was a first stop in the hopes of connecting with the people I was worried about. In Boston you couldn’t connect via cell phone.

We also saw the power of these platforms as tools for public safety and law enforcement. 

From a corporate prospective the ability to broadcast to your all of your employees at once is invaluable. 

Even if companies are not fully embracing the social aspects of Twitter it should be considered a best practice to maintain a corporate account in the event of office closings and other important bulletins. 

Agreed, Mario. Major shoutout to Google's Person Finder app for helping those looking for everyone during the Boston Marathon explosions. Five years ago, the technology would never have been so strong to loop everyone in and certainly 10 years ago it would have been next to impossible to connect.

Interesting article with some very important points discussed. Social media is now the best way to stay connected with friends and family. It is good channel to spread information within seconds. It is considered to be a powerful tool of communication.

 

Yep, yep! It's also partially responsible for why I wind up staying up late after bedtime because I like to refresh my Tumblr account... and keep refreshing and refreshing... :)

Thanks Heather - there's some good advice here - particularly about stopping scheduled tweets. For me, it also stresses the importance of consolidation within corporations and limiting social media account proliferation.

This article is really good and full of insight considering as how a lot of people disregard personal feelings and just want to show off.