Compared to other traditional means of crisis communication, it turns out that social media has a lot to recommend it. Part of this is due to its popularity. Part is also due to the interactions that typify social media sites and that facilitate good crisis management. Before the Internet, crisis management was largely a matter of phone management with a press release to try to get information out to customers or the public. But the effort required to answer calls, the frustration when all lines were busy, and the inevitable delay before publication in newspapers often led to poor results and damage to reputations. How do social media sites make this better?

The biggest social networking sites are well-known, stable and a natural destination for people looking for news. While acknowledging the merits of other smaller social networks, Facebook and Twitter are clear leaders because of their popularity (about 1 billion people use Facebook, for example). Tweeting on Twitter about a situation to give the public reassurance that it is being handled correctly is one of the fastest ways to good crisis management. Putting up more detailed information on a Facebook page is also speedy, efficient and (if the message is well constructed) effective. It’s no wonder that many government agencies and corporations use both channels for this.

But what about emails and SMS communications to mobile phones? They can also be useful, although they both suffer from two potential drawbacks compared to social media. Firstly, you need to have access to a list of email addresses or mobile phone numbers in order to get your message out. If your crisis has happened because your IT systems all went down, you’re unlikely to have such access. Secondly, it’s impossible for recipients of your emails or SMSs to communicate as a group, which is often a priority for customers or constituents affected by a crisis – and which can also give valuable information back to you about next steps in your crisis management. In all, while social media sites are not the only way of handling a crisis, they should definitely be part of your crisis management planning.