2013 Social Media Icon Awards: Crisis Management Campaign


Co-Winner: San Diego Gas & Electric - The calm AFTER the storm

To prepare for an unexpected emergency, San Diego Gas & Electric holds at least four crisis exercises a year, which involve the simulated activation of the company's Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Good thing, too, because on Sept. 8, 2011, nearly 7 million people across two states and northern Baja California, Mexico, lost power. It was the first system-wide blackout in SDG&E’s 100-plus years in business.

Immediately after the outage, SDG&E activated its EOC and implemented its practiced crisis communications response with the goal of ensuring vital information about the power outage was accurately and quickly disseminated to stakeholders.

Twitter was at the center of this response. Within minutes, the first of 123 Twitter messages was sent. SDG&E created a hashtag, #sdoutage, the public could use to monitor and receive updates about the power outage. At the onset, the focus was on public safety messages. Once the power was restored, SDG&E transitioned its messages to encourage the public to implement energy conservation measures to protect the still fragile electric system.

The level of importance of Twitter throughout the crisis was clear—there was a dramatic increase in SDG&E's Twitter followers, which increased in 24 hours from 1,700 to 17,000 during the outage. Media outlets praised SDG&E’s Twitter-focused crisis management efforts, with San Diego Union-Tribune reporting that “the thrum of activity at SDG&E’s command center [during the blackout] was constant.” —Steve Goldstein

Co-Winner: Weber Shandwick - “Like This”: American Airlines Responds Socially to Alec Baldwin Incident

These days, a plane hardly ever leaves the tarmac without a passenger aboard tweeting a complaint about his or her seat, delayed departure, a screaming baby or a missed connection.

Such was the case on Dec. 6, 2011, when American Airlines crew members responded to an incident involving actor Alec Baldwin on a flight from Los Angeles to New York. According to witnesses, the incident began when Baldwin was asked by a flight attendant to turn off his mobile phone in preparation for takeoff, a clear FAA regulation.

At the time, Baldwin was playing Words With Friends on his smartphone. After being asked to turn off his phone and refusing, the plane went back to the gate and Baldwin was removed from the flight, at which point he began tweeting to his then 600,000 followers.

Within a few minutes, 2,722 people had retweeted Baldwin’s messages, which quickly spread to 5 million people. News outlets picked up the story shortly thereafter.

The American Airlines social media team, a combined group of the airline’s customer service reps and PR pros from agency partner Weber Shandwick, immediately got to work with one main goal—to engage quickly and calmly throughout the crisis on social channels and be clear about its passenger policies.

Here’s the Twitter timeline:

5:01 p.m., Baldwin fired off: “Flight attendant on American reamed me out 4 playing WORDS W FRIENDS while we sat at the gate, not moving.”

5:19 p.m., Baldwin tweeted: “#nowonderamericaairisbankrupt.”

5:33 p.m., AA responded: “@AlecBaldwin Mr. Baldwin, we are looking into this. Please DM us contact information.”

5:38 p.m., Baldwin wrote: “Now on the 3 o’clock American flight. The flight attendants already look...smarter.”

5:50 p.m., Baldwin wrote: “#theresalwaysunited Last flight w American. Where retired Catholic school gym teachers from the 1950s find jobs as flight attendants.”

American and Weber Shandwick posted an official statement about the incident the next day first on Facebook, which reached 75,729 people via 6,534 likes and 1,261 shares. A tweet posted with a link to the Facebook post was retweeted 355 times.

American was praised publicly for recognizing that there is not a special set of rules for celebrities, and that FAA guidelines must be followed by every traveler. Within a week, social conversation about Alec Baldwin and American Airlines amounted to 27,230 posts reaching more than 38 million people. —Bill Miltenberg

Honorable Mentions:

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - Onward and Upward – HMH Restructures for the Future

Potomac Electric Power Company - Hurricane Sandy Crisis Management

Spirit AeroSystems Holdings - The calm AFTER the storm 

Return to Social Media Icon Awards