What Social Media Crisis Management Lessons can Councils Learn from the Recent Floods?

Posted by | February 12, 2014 | Blog | No Comments
Tonbridge Floods

Tonbridge Floods

Some of the team in integrated communications agency Embrace have been affected by the possibility of flooding over the recent weeks. Touch wood, flood waters are still at bay, but the issue has certainly made the integrated communications agency more alert to what local councils have been doing in ‘crisis-mode’.

To date, Embrace PR Manager James Davies has had the closest call and been looking at his local council, Tonbridge and Malling’s social media crisis management plan.

He says, “I can’t stop noticing what a terribly slow response there has been from the local councils. The first floods occurred just before Christmas when there was nobody in the council to respond.”

The one thing that seems to have been missing in terms of councils social media crisis management approach is information and support – and as a result, local communities and flood victims have had no choice but to get on with it and communicate with one another via social media rather than go to what should be a reliable official source.

Post-flooding the Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council have posted this alert – http://www.tmbc.gov.uk/landing/flooding-alert – which while succinct and to the point can’t help but feel a tad underwhelming post-event (though we appreciate that one of the problems for councils is that the level of noise generated through media and social media instantly seems to dwarf their efforts, which seem minimal in comparison).

Btw, we write the following not to single out Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council, it’s just theirs was the activity we most witnessed close up when it comes to social media and crisis management, a UK floods social media case study if you like.

Whilst the enforced do-it-yourself agenda has rekindled the good old British Blitz spirit among communities, what could councils do differently to avoid such a social media backlash in the future?

1. Plan ahead
Sure, it’s hard to predict a crisis, but it is possible to see where the borough is susceptible or even look at the weather forecast and see if there’s going to be increased heavy rain, high winds, dry spells, snow etc and whether it could potentially merit a social media crisis response.

Creating a series of FAQs/downloadable factsheets for all eventualities should put councils ahead of the game (and at least counter some of the negativity/anger caused when these crises happen when the council is ‘closed’ for holidays etc). Forewarned is forearmed after all.

2. Build a sophisticated database
Similarly, nothing prevents a media and/or social media crisis like a pre-emptive text or email campaign (see above, re. planning).

Creating and communicating with a sophisticated database would allow councils to target potentially affected users in time based on their location, age, demographic etc (depending on the nature of the impending issue).

3. Connect with influencers
A quick squiz down Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council’s followees on Twitter show some recent additions of local influencers to their feed.

We’re all naturally programmed to follow/connect with traditional pillars of local knowledge like councillors, radio stations, newspapers, reporters, tourist offices etc, but it’s easy to forget that there are key influencers (with followings) out there who can

be of assistance. They can act as both councils’ eyes and ears on unfolding situations and help get the message and support out there (as sometimes they’re more fun(!) than councils and with bigger followings)

Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council have subsequently followed @hidlenweather (live weather reports from an amateur Hildenborough Weather Station incl Wind/Windchill/UV/SPF if appropriate, Stormwatch Plane spotting as a bonus) but – at the time of writing – are yet to sync with @TonTweet (sharing news, views and pictures of Tonbridge and the surrounding area), https://twitter.com/tontweet who’s been posting real time videos and constant information for the local residents – invaluable information for any real time social media crisis management plan.

Again, it’s worth sniffing these people out in advance and building relationships with them.

4. Join user-generated groups
User-groups naturally spring up around such events as the floods: in an ideal world, councils should have a representative involved to direct users to appropriate content and answer questions.

In theory, it’s much more cost-efficient to have one person responding in this way across a number of channels than buy in a team of temps to man the phones and get up-to-speed in record time.

A couple of social media groups have sprung up locally and you can see their activities and what they’re sharing here fyi.

- ‪@TonbridgeFlood a help & support page for those affected by the recent floods ‪#runbyvolunteers

Help & support for Tonbridge & surrounding areas affected by the floods https://www.facebook.com/groups/1399716396941795/members/

What’s more these type of groups continue to become key as the crisis is resolved (and are also likely to come alive again – God forbid – the situation reoccurs).

The original blog post was written for This Is Embrace.

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