Crisis Response Lessons Learned from the Boston Marathon Bombings

(Image: NPR)
According to the Pew Research Center, a quarter of all Americans received information about the devastating explosions on social networking sites. (Image: NPR)

It's been one year since two bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and in that relatively short period countless stories of bravery and quick-thinking have emerged from the tragedy. In the minutes and hours that followed the bombing, with the city reeling and and thousands of runners, spectators and citizens in need of information, the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) embarked upon an unexpected crisis communications campaign. And the group did it using social media.

Trying to communicate important information to runners still on the marathon course, via volunteers, would have been cumbersome and time consuming, and the messages would have been distorted through all of the transfers from person to person. However, by deploying social media, the BAA was able to keep runners and the general public updated about what to do and where to go.

Used strategically and as part of an overall communication mix, social media can add depth, breadth and speed to crisis communication efforts.

Here are some guidelines to follow when you include social media platforms in a crisis communication plan, courtesy of Melony Shemberger, assistant professor in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications at Murray State University.

  • Look through the crisis communication plan for ways to use social media as an effective communication channel to employees, key third parties, customers and stakeholders.
  • Decide which social networks will be most useful for crisis communication. Many organizations use Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and others as part of their marketing tactics; however, an organization might find that just Facebook and Twitter work best to disseminate messages in times of a crisis or emergency.
  • Make sure that all involved in the social media component of the crisis communication plan are trained to handle the technology (social media apps on smartphones, tablets, etc.) and manage messages relevant to the audience and situation. Although interaction between the organization and audience might be limited during a crisis because of the immediacy in posting messages, having an employee monitor comments posted by the public to gauge concerns is important.

Follow Brian Greene: @bwilliamgreene