Booz Allen Hamilton

Social Media’s Role in Crisis Communications

New and accessible communication platforms and technologies, such as blogs, social networking sites, Really Simply Syndication (RSS) feeds, and other formats, have the potential to reach more people with more relevant messages than ever before.

But the implications for managing messages to protect public health and safety—especially during times of crisis—can be staggering. Because anyone can create content and distribute it freely, it has become increasingly difficult for those involved in risk communications to control messaging. Government, nonprofit, and commercial organizations must improve their understanding of how to use social media to support their crisis communications strategies.

To better harness the power of social media tools, an expert round table met in Washington, D.C. in March 2009 to address the strategic challenges and opportunities of “Social Media and Risk Communications during Times of Crisis.”

Booz Allen Hamilton, the American Public Health Association, the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, International Association of Emergency Managers, and National Association of Government Communicators co-sponsored the event.

The round table brought together a select group of thought leaders and practitioners from public health, emergency response, crisis communications, and social media arenas to discuss social media strategies before, after, and during crises. Identifying how social media is currently used during emergencies will help public health and emergency managers craft a unified strategy on applying social media to improve emergency communications.

Representatives from the American Red Cross, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services participated in discussions that included innovative best practices, common pitfalls, lessons learned, and informative back stories, and recommended next steps for using social media.

The discussions were summarized in a post-conference report and a series of video podcasts of speaker presentations. The presentations vividly illustrate how widgets, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, and other social media tools are being used to improve emergency communications, and explain the critical role these tools played in events such as the 2008 attacks on Mumbai and 2009 salmonella-related peanut recall. The report also included:

  • Outcomes from break-out sessions on core social media challenges related to public – private partnerships, evaluation, metrics, resource requirements, and social media communication strategies
  • Survey results on organizational uses of social media in times of crisis
  • Tips on how to implement social media for emergency communications
  • A guide to establishing social media best practices
  • A social media primer describing the portfolio of social media tools

Principal Grant McLaughlin, senior associate Tim Tinker, and senior consultant Michael Dumlao led Booz Allen’s team of round table organizers, speakers, and break-out session facilitators.

study posted July 23, 2009

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