One of my favorite crisis bloggers, Kim Stephens, recently published an interesting summary of two reports by Project Hazards Emergency Response and Online Informal Communication (HEROIC), on their research around the use of Twitter by officials in the Boston Marathon Bombings. There are many aspects of these reports that are very interesting, but the thing that struck me the most was the inconsistency of hashtag use, across the board, during the week of events that followed the Marathon Bombings. (Read Kim’s entire summary and take-aways here.)
The reports state that:
While there were a series of events throughout the week, including the detonation of improvised explosive devices at the beginning of the week, the killing of a police officer at MIT, and the lockdowns of Boston and Watertown, there was no indication that a consistent hashtag emerged or trended among official organizations to organize their content into a traceable stream.
This is a big deal. Without consistency, your target audience:
- Doesn’t know which hashtags to monitor for all updates, information and help requests
- Has a high-risk chance of missing important updates and information that needs to be shared and retweeted
- In the case of the Boston Marathon Bombings: Officials had no way of tracking and keeping up-to-speed on different departments and agencies’ progress
Having a pre-determined hashtag strategy is something that needs to be organized before a crisis – and this goes for companies, organizations and schools, just as it applies to government officials and emergency responders.
What your hashtag strategy needs to include
Whether your crisis hashtag strategy includes a pre-determined hashtag or not, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you do in fact develop a hashtag strategy before a crisis strikes. This crisis hashtag strategy should include:
- Defining the role a hashtag will and must play within your crisis communications
- Guidelines and policies for using the hashtag within your crisis communications
- Where internal and external stakeholders can go to learn more about the hashtag strategy, including what the hashtag actually is during any given crisis
- How you would like your audience to use the hashtag in a crisis
The importance of developing your hashtag strategy pre-crisis
Hashtags provide a way of grouping relevant information for ease of following, finding and sharing on social networks. The easiest way to group all of your communications in a crisis on Twitter is by using a dedicated hashtag. This dedicated hashtag:
Keeps communications organized: No one following the crisis will miss a tweet or any important news. This makes it easy for your stakeholders to follow and share important information regarding the crisis.
Time efficiency: The proper use of hashtags makes your organization’s life much simpler in a crisis. Once your hashtag strategy has been determined, everyone is aware and the appropriate people can begin to use these strategies as soon as possible.
Makes monitoring easier: Others know what hashtag to use to make it easier for your team to monitor information, news and inquiries about the crisis from your stakeholders.
Great for documenting post-crisis: Documenting a crisis once it has been resolved is an important end-step within your crisis management. Having all of your organization’s, and many stakeholders’, tweets grouped together makes the task of documenting that much easier.
Twitter plays an essential role within your crisis management, and within that essential role are different strategies for efficient and effective crisis communications. The use of crisis hashtags are one of the most important of those strategies.
Is your company or organization prepared with a crisis hashtag strategy?
Author of Crisis Ready: Building an Invincible Brand in an Uncertain World, Melissa Agnes is a leading authority on crisis preparedness, reputation management, and brand protection. Agnes is a coveted keynote speaker, commentator, and advisor to some of today’s leading organizations faced with the greatest risks. Learn more about Melissa and her work here.