Does your crisis communications plan involve social media?

Sandy Nessing

Sandy Nessing

The power of social media recently became crystal clear following a couple of major events that captured much of the nation’s attention. When the lights went out June 29 for millions of electric customers in the wake of a super “derecho” that hit the Midwest and East Coast, many turned to their mobile devices for information and to make contact with the outside world. The companies whose infrastructure was damaged or destroyed by the severe weather relied on social media to provide updates of restoration efforts, safety information such as what to do if you encountered a downed power line, how to report an outage and to engage with customers who were very frustrated about being without power in triple digit heat.

More than 1.4 million American Electric Power (AEP) customers in six states lost power following a series of  storms that began that day — and that was just one company. To try and satisfy customers’ hunger for information, AEP burned up the Twittersphere with regular updates almost around-the-clock, and posted videos and photos to its web sites and to company YouTube, Facebook and Flickr pages. We were able to answer customers’ questions in real time and give them information about restoration times and tips to survive the heat with no power.

As one would imagine, there was plenty of frustration over the duration of the outages. But when customers realized how bad the damage was, many began to understand why it was taking so long to turn the lights back on. As the work progressed, customers increasingly took to the airwaves to thank our crews and express appreciation for the information they got via social media. AEP received thousands more followers and significantly increased traffic to all of its web sites, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and YouTube videos.  It became a life line for many and allowed us to interact directly with our customers during a major crisis.

Not long after that event, the horrible mass murders in Aurora, Colorado occurred. Amid the grief, shock and anger over those senseless shootings, something else interesting happened. Reporters in the field were getting updates from law enforcement officials via Twitter – and sharing news as the story unfolded, in real time, without waiting for periodic briefings. As a news junkie, it met my insatiable need to know what was happening as it happened. That’s when it became clear as day: Social media are critical during a crisis. It is vital to the flow of information and is an invaluable communications vehicle; one might even say it has become as important in a crisis as a business continuity plan. When crisis strikes, will you be ready with a social media strategy?


About Sandy Nessing

Sandy Nessing is the Managing Director of Sustainability & ESH Strategy & Design for American Electric Power Co. Inc. She wrote and published AEP’s first Corporate Sustainability Report in 2007, and in 2010 published AEP’s first integrated Corporate Accountability Report, a combination of the annual sustainability report and Annual Report to Shareholders. Follow her on Twitter at @Watts4U.

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