As Hurricane Sandy hits the northeast, utilities communicate via Twitter
With Hurricane Sandy taking the east coast by storm, our team has been following two major east coast utilities, New York’s Consolidated Edison (ConEd) and Baltimore Gas & Electric (BG&E), and how they've communicated during a crisis in the twitter age.
It’s true that social media has changed how organizations handle crisis communications. Instead of just seeking information from credible, reliable sources, there is more of a “crowd informs the crowd” method of learning and information sharing. On Monday alone, there were over 4 million tweets, most of which came from east coast residents, not necessarily from subject matter experts.
Still, companies have an opportunity to use twitter to improve communication with the public. What it really comes down to is being prepared.
First, creating a crisis communications plan before a crisis event is certainly ideal. This plan should include a number of communications strategies across many mediums, but should without doubt include social media. And why is that? Because social media is the fastest way to spread any message in today’s world. With nearly 8 million east coast residents without power, ConEd and BG&E need to get information to their customers – and fast.
Looking at ConEd and BG&E, both utilities spent time considering possible crises. They each developed a core set of key messages that were consistently communicated via twitter. Looking at a snippet of their twitter feeds you can see this consistency within their tweets.
Now what if there isn’t time to plan ahead – what if something happens more instantaneously? If a situation occurs and no prior planning has happened, keep in mind these 3 tips:
- Be aware. To understand the real concerns of your customers during a crisis situation, you need to be in-tune to the conversations taking place on Twitter. Try setting up a desktop monitoring solution such as TweetDeck to streamline the monitoring process by allowing you to monitor multiple channels of conversation.
- Listen and respond. Being aware is a great first step, but alone does not provide information to your customers. It’s important to have someone reading and responding to tweets on a constant basis during a crisis. Your customers want to feel like they’re heard, like they matter, and like someone hears them and will do something. You never want to make a customer feel dismissed. Both ConEd and BG&E should be commended for their efforts in monitoring conversations and responding to a large volume of tweets throughout Hurricane Sandy.
- Be transparent. When crafting updates to your customers, be sure to be transparent and realistic. It would do ConEd and BG&E no good to promise customers restored power to their homes within an hour, when it’s clear that debris blocking the roadways will not allow that to happen. People want a real, straight answer, and will appreciate it.
Be sure to follow these tips during a crisis to keep your organization from being the next big #FAIL.