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Raytchle Reiss

Digital Acquisition Strategist

The Power Of Social In Crisis Communication

In the wake of the attack in Brussels it’s become apparent how important social has become in crisis communication.

Historically, news websites have updated stories sporadically though this has recently changed with the likes of the BBC posting by-the-minute updates across social channels. In a recent report, Pew Research Centre found that more than half of all Facebook and Twitter users get news from the sites which is a significant increase in news consummation from the same research in 2013.

It’s not surprising that the BBC and Sky have harnessed social media feeds to reach readers where they spend 28% of time online. Mobile accounts for one-third of all internet users, long form content on is difficult to consume on these devices so splitting updates out into bitesize chunks of 140 characters makes sense.

There are some industries that have a higher risk of being targeted. Transport and Aviation have seen several disasters over the last 10 years with terrorist attacks such as 9/11, Malaysia flight 17 and the missing Malaysia airline flight 370. IATA the International Air Transport Association has published guidelines for aviation and the use of social media during crisis communication.

So, what have the Social Giants done?

Social within a crisis isn’t just about keeping up to date with news. For users, it’s one of the quickest communication methods with your loved ones. For those affected by the event it can be extremely stressful trying to get hold of friends and family.

Mark As Safe

Facebook launched the “Safety Check” in April 2015 for the people that were affected by the earthquake in Nepal as a simple way to let friends and family know that you are safe. Before the Paris attacks the Safety Check feature was only turned on during natural disasters causing criticism that it is only turned on for select emergencies.

Temporary Profile Pictures

It’s in times of crisis that social media users unite to support a common cause. Following the Paris terrorist attack Facebook’s functionality to temporarily change your profile picture to one with an overlay of a french flag covered our news feeds in red, white and blue.


Assigning hashtags to key events allows people to communicate and follow updates in one single feed.

In conclusion, social media is now an integral part of crisis communication. Virability allows news to travel quicker than ever before as stories are split up into bite size chunks that can be consumed across all devices and channels. Updates on events are regularly communicated and users can support those affected by changing their profile picture. Social media users can be checked in as safe, freeing up telecommunication networks and reducing widespread panic for loved ones - something that came under major criticism in the wake of 7/7.

My only critique falls with the social giants is that this functionality needs to be added in any large crisis, not just the selective few. There are hundreds of incidents that are not publicised worldwide. Mali also fell victim to a terrorist attack yesterday however it’s news coverage was overrun by recent events in Brussels. Hours of tweets and posts to Facebook calling for the functionality to be deployed could have saved thousands of loved ones panicking about the whereabouts of their loved ones.

From my perspective, the importance of Facebook and Twitter will increase in crisis communication. Users have shown that this is now an expected tool by calling for the launch of the Brussels “Safety Check” page. I feel that there is far more that the social giants can do. We already have the communication method following an event that is integrated via geolocation. Surely a defensive measure to automatically alert travellers of attacks local to them would save lives?

A crisis occurs in the night. The first thing most people do is check their phones. Having alert via notification would warn people instantly of issues in their local area.

Social media in crisis communication can be utilized as more of a defense measure. I guess we will have to wait to see what the likes of Facebook and Twitter come up with and hope they evolve what they have started.