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People involved in crisis communications are obsessed with social media. Newspapers, TV, internal comms are all very well, but Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare and YouTube that’s where the real action lies. Forget the old and bring on the new.

All of which may be bewildering for those involved in resilience and crisis mitigation, but are not directly responsible for comms.

So what has changed? Is it all smoke and mirrors or has there been a real shift?

The really irritating reply is that everything and nothing has changed. Which probably leaves crisis managers thinking: “Why can I never get a straight answer out of the comms department?”

Look at it this way. The rules of good communication still apply. In a crisis, be proactive in your dealings with the media, provide a steady stream of information, don’t allow an information gap to open up and keep in touch with the public mood. Then there’s internal comms, make sure your staff and other stakeholders (customers, suppliers, regulators etc.) are kept in the loop.

This may be entry-level stuff, but it all still applies and you ignore it at your peril. But there has been a change.

In the past communication was very top down. You communicated to your audiences, now you communicate with your audiences. Today it’s a two way street whether you like it or not. It can be tough to move beyond the “I speak – you listen” mentality and really engage.

But engage you must as communication is now conducted in real-time across multiple channels. Stakeholders can be pretty unforgiving if a prompt and timely reply isn’t forthcoming.

Perhaps you’re attacked on your Facebook page. You can keep saying this isn’t a customer service site but that’s not going to stop people venting their spleen, so you’d better have a plan in place.

If you do respond don’t get involved in an on-line slanging match, but try to answer questions and generally be helpful. If your brand is attacked and you wish to respond do so on that same channel. If you’re attacked on YouTube, respond on YouTube.

And make sure is doesn’t read or sound like an automated response. Be human, if appropriate be chatty and bold. In fact, just good old-fashioned communications on a new platform.

In the past, people used to talk about the golden hour, which allowed you time to prepare to face the press and other audiences. Social media has taken that golden hour and melted it down.

The speed with which you respond to the public is seen as an indicator of how prepared you are to respond to the emergency. From a comms point of view, if the public isn’t aware that you’re responding to the problem, then you’re not!

First impressions are lasting impressions – this doesn’t necessarily mean having all the answers; it means having an early presence so the public knows that you’re aware of the emergency and have systems in place to respond.

Social media, particularly Twitter, is excellent for releasing quick, short statements, giving you that early presence. It may also be appropriate for you to produce a Twitter version of all press releases, press statements, responses and information updates.

The Internet has made media monitoring both easier and more difficult. More difficult – because of the plethora of digital media. Easier – because of the wide availability of search engines to help you find out what’s being said.

So spread your media monitoring net wide and listen, listen, listen to what people are saying about your brand and respond in a timely, thoughtful, human and adaptable manner. And don’t forget to treat your staff in the same way.

It’s no longer “I speak – you listen” but rather “I listen – I speak.”