One example of the use of social media, appropriate leadership, and responding to a crisis was the 2009 H1N1 flu epidemic. In mid - April 2009, a new strain of influenza was found in a 10 year old patient in California. This new strain of influenza originally emerged in Mexico and began to spread swiftly throughout the United States. By the end of April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also known as the CDC, was certain that a national public health crisis was forming. As the H1N1 epidemic began to rise, the CDC activated the Emergency Operation Center and the Joint Information Center. During national health emergencies, these centers serve as the operational basis for CDC strategic communication. The CDC's years of practicing strategic planning and emergency exercises for preparation of a global influenza pandemic were paying off. However, there was one aspect of the epidemic that the CDC could not have predicted. This major public health event would operate in an active online communication environment.
Around the time of the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, such communication channels as Twitter were on the rise as a target online medium for exchanging news and information. Other communication channels like Facebook had over 200 million users, and YouTube had an estimated 100 million viewers. It was estimated that approximately 76.8 percent of U.S. Internet users were online video users. Due to the 2011 demographical data that YouTube users were females in ages ranging from 25 - 54, the online video sharing method served as a perfect way to target caregivers of both small children and the elderly. These two populations served as the most highly at risk area for problems or complications from the H1N1 virus. This further confirmed the importance of social media during disasters and emergencies. According to a study performed by the American Red Cross in 2010, 82 percent of participants use social media weekly and almost half of the respondents use it daily. However, only 1 out 6 use social media to gain information regarding disasters or emergencies. But, almost half indicated that they would share disaster or emergency information using social media methods.
Because of the quickly expanding popularity of these online communication methods, social media professionals at the CDC were lead into the 2009 H1N1 response to form a communication strategy for social media methods that would align with traditional media strategies. Even though the social media agenda would involve a large presence on Facebook and Twitter, YouTube was earlier used in the response by the CDC to provide timely, accurate, and credible health messages by social media. The viewing of 2.1 million users of the 2009 H1N1 videos released by the CDC further confirms the participation on YouTube.
Along with the appropriate use of social media to manage crisis, even the best crisis PR plans need to be evaluated and analyzed to ensure it represents the current, up - to - date, and certain crisis it needs to handle. When attempting to accomplish this task, public relations professionals should decide on their stance based on the brand's look on the issue and by the public's response. At this moment is where social media plays an active role by allowing brands immediate access to invaluable feedback across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social mediums. Public relations professionals have to decide what media strategies should be implemented to ensure that they are ready if and when a brand needs to manage a crisis.
In order to manage a crisis effectively, public relations professionals need to know how to use social media appropriately to improve crisis communications. Public relations professionals need to learn to listen on social media, distinguish messages, and quickly address concerns. Using these three methods will further enable public relations or strategic communication professionals to respond appropriately to a specific crisis.
By listening on social media, experts primarily focus on the "speaking" portion of social media management. This involves creating, searching for, and posting new content. But, many brands do not realize that it is just as important to concentrate on moderating and listening on social media accounts. When companies analyze their social media target, they should study the people's response as well. There are many forms of publicity, however, not all of it is good publicity. The people's responses should be monitored in both good and bad times, and it is equally important to know how people feel about the company and where sentiments lie. This should be known before engaging into an emergency. One of the ways companies listen is by using community managers that monitor conversations about the company. By tracking and listening, community managers are able to focus on what consumers are saying about the company. This will further allow managers to respond appropriately to a crisis when it arises.
In addition to listening on social media, professionals should learn to distinguish messages. Just like some companies brand their company to different demographics in various ways, companies should construct different messages for the different groups of people responding to and affected by the crisis. This will further ensure all messages and clear and work together without causing confusion.
Moreover, professionals should learn to address concerns quickly. By staying one step ahead of a upcoming problem, community managers can further prevent a crisis from spinning out of control or from occurring in the first place. The key is solving the problem before it actually occurs. If an angry individual resorts to showing negative feelings to a larger audience, it is better to have a plan in place beforehand. Solving problems quickly can increase the odds of keeping it quiet and not spiraling out of control.
By using effective, efficient, and appropriate leadership, social media, and crisis management tactics, companies can further avoid catastrophic outcomes from a crisis. The proper use of these tools will allow organizations to stay afloat when a crisis occurs and dramatically reduce negative impacts from crisis occurrences.
Torrosian, Ronn. "How To Use Social Media To Improve Crisis Communications." Forbes, September 9, 2016, https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2016/09/09/how-to-use-social-media-to-improve-crisis-communications/#7244b5e2f169.