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The Use of Social Media During Crises and Tragedies
By: Ryan Stoldt
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The past week has been tragic for everyone. The catastrophic explosions in West Texas and at the Boston Marathon reminded everyone that tragedy can any day to anyone. For professionals within the field of public relations, it is also a reminder that crisis can happen at any time without warning. During a crisis, social media should be a priority for any organization. The lessons learned from the tragedies in the past week are a testament to the essentiality of this use.
Within seconds of the explosion at the Boston Marathon, Twitter took off with news. People were talking about the event, tweeting video of the explosion, and expressing their sympathy for everyone affected by the tragedy. As expected, many people heard the news via Facebook or Twitter.
The use of social media as a source for news has been growing for years. It is because of this growth that organizations need to continue to pay attention to their social media during crises. The Boston Police Department tweeted well over 50 times on Monday after the explosion. Their Twitter became the news. By continuing to focus on their digital presence, The Boston Police Department’s Twitter drove the conversation about the event and shared information with the world quickly and effectively.
While the recent tragedies have shown incredible use of social media as a component of crisis communication, a scandal earlier this year shows how a lack of social media presence can affect the organization. Manti Te’o’s fake girlfriend overran the news media earlier this year. After allegations against Te’o became public, Te’o became completely silent on Twitter. As news continued to spread about Te’o’s deception over the next few days, Te’o remained silent. To most people on the Twitter community who paid attention to his account, his silence was equivalent to a “no comment” to a reporter. To those of you who don’t realize this, saying “no comment” is about as incriminating as you can get.
Regardless of the crisis, social media should play an essential role in an organization’s crisis communication plan for three extremely important reasons. First, social media allows the dissemination of news quickly. Second, social media allows an organization to drive the conversation about the crisis. Third, social media allows the organization to interact with consumers and give reassurance that the crisis will be managed properly. By doing all of this, people will trust the transparency that organizations share.
Although there are lessons to be learned that have stemmed from the tragedies, the hideousness of these devastating events will not be forgotten. Please continue to send your thoughts and support to everyone affected by this week’s tragedies.


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About the Author
Ryan Stoldt is a digital strategist with a B.A. in Integrated Marketing Communications from Wichita State University. Find him online here
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