Twitter and crisis communication–some thoughts from Neil Chapman

January 8, 2009

My friend Neil Chapman and I were having an interesting discussion yesterday about Twitter and its use as a crisis communication tool. I was discussing some concerns about how it works great if you are independent and have full freedom to communicate without approvals, a vetting process, or if you are not part of a joint response such as occurs in a Joint Information Center. I am working on a White Paper on this and will share it with Crisisblogger readers when it is done.

Neil had some interesting perspectives about other problems with using Twitter which he is sharing with us in this post:

What a difference a year makes, even though the new one is just a few days old.

Britney Spear’s Twitter feed was hacked, according to the UK’s Guardian newspaper.  She’s wasn’t alone. About the same time Apple suffered a similar attack, according to the Huffington Post.

For me – and I assume other crisis communicators – Twitter hit our radar screens in a dramatic way during 2008. In terms of eye-witness reporting, the Mumbai attacks saw Twitter come into its own, according to Forbes. And some individual organizations used Twitter to enhance communications during events they responded to, notably the Los Angeles Fire Department (@LAFD) and Public Service of New Hampshire (@psnh). A fascinating development that crisisblogger highlighted along with other developments involving Twitter.

But Apple and Britney have discovered Twitter can bite them.  As a Twitter user I have to do a lot of work – sign up and into my account , ensure I’m following the right people or organization, regularly check the information stream by scrawling through all my tweets to get what I want – then click somewhere else! There’s some push  but a lot of pulling.

Just last week the Twittersphere was abuzz with a nasty phishing attack. Twitter, as a service, seemed to be caught on the back foot with just a tiny word warning posted on home pages very late on, but that disappeared after a couple of days. On more than one occasion I signed in to be told to come back later. There was too much Twittering going on!

The lesson for me isn’t that organizations like LAFD and PSNH adopted Twitter as a channel to enhance their crisis communications and that it’s a best practice we all need to adopt. What they did is demonstrate they have the right philosophy – of timely, targeted information updates during crises.

The channel itself has shown to be insecure and less than perfect – a bit like Britney really ( though I do like her music).

Neil Chapman


One Response to “Twitter and crisis communication–some thoughts from Neil Chapman”

  1. LM Says:

    You’ve highlighted the best part of Twitter right there: it’s a voice of an individual, and it is unencumbered by corporate oversight and marketing-speak; the voice of people, immediate and relevant. During California wildfires, Mumbai attacks, and hurricane Ike, the world was a-twitter with real relevant information, while officials struggled with official counts and vetting processes. This is what makes services like CrisisWire so powerful: they harness and present the voice of the people, and weigh it carefully with the official word (when it FINALLY becomes available, if ever). There’s an important balance between fast, non-credible information sources (twitter, blogs) and slow, credible sources (companies, governments) that CrisisWire seems to be sitting right on top of.

    PIER should come up with some sort of official agreement with CrisisWire, since PIER is also usually both accurate and fast. When I was with PIER I had chatted a bit with CrisisWire about some sort of integration/partnership, but I’m not sure how far it went.

    I absolutely LOVE this blog, it’s very stimulating. Thanks Gerald for the awesome insight, you’re one in a million.

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