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Crisis Comm

by Gerald Baron: Crisis and emergency communication strategies

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And the Superbowl Winner is...Twitter
February 04, 2013
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The lights went out in the Superdome. It's every venue manager's and utility executives nightmare. Exactly this scenario was one of many major event scenarios I've been involved in planning for one major utility. One of the challenges for communication for this kind of event is that you have both the utility power and customer equipment. The assumption of those experiencing the outage is power utility failure--much more likely that is customer equipment. But, there is great danger is finger pointing--so delicate messaging prepared in advance and good internal information flow is essential.

This event, like LIPA and Sandy, probably has most utility communicator's attention. One issue, is what you say, when, and how you say it. The bigger issue, is how you will get your message out. The early returns on this event seem to be that Entergy, the utility, and SMG, the Superdome manager, both messed up.

Here's a summary from the PR Daily's report:

Social media did not appear to be a major part of either organization’s crisis communications plan. Entergy posted three times to Facebook and only twice to Twitter. The outage wasn’t even mentioned on the Superdome’s Facebook page. The Superdome doesn’t have a Twitter account, nor does SMG. The management company doesn’t have an active Facebook page, either. Its bloghasn’t been updated since December. 

One thing we keep saying in crisis communication today is just because you are not telling your story, it does not mean that your story is not being told. It will be told, but by others, including those who may not be friendly to you. That played out in spades during this outage. Here's how Forbes reported on how the information about the outage was told:

For a good chunk of the power outage, the only news to be had came from Twitter. Some was actual information, but the bulk were wisecracks in the dark with a considerably higher entertainment quotient than watching the players stand around while the adrenaline drained from their punished bodies.

Let's be clear on what this means:

- no media, not even the hundreds of them at the venue, was getting any info from either Entergy or SMG
- any information was coming from those tweeting (and there were lots and lots of them)

In a related twist, there were those ads. Companies paid mega-millions for the opportunity to gain exposure to this audience. But the ad winner likely didn't pay a dime. Oreo cookie tweeted soon after the blackout that you could still dunk an Oreo in the dark. Soon after there were over 10,000 retweets. As of now, there are over 15,000 retweets (for those wondering about a retweet, is when someone sees a tweet they like and send to their followers) (think about what this means for future TV events!)

More than proving the hero in outage communications (and proving that those organizations that don't use it don't belong in the big leagues), Twitter and other social media channels played a huge role in the Superbowl activities. Social media activity doubled over last year. And a high percentage of tweets were not about the game, but about the commercials.


- message map an outage at a major event (this applies to smaller utilities as well)

- if you're not using Twitter, well, nothing I or anyone else can say will probably change it. 

- if you are not monitoring social media, you're in the dark





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