Crisis response time on Twitter

Last week a tweet that an Airbus A380 had crashed was enough to send share prices (Rolls Royce) falling and kick off a crisis for the owner, Quantas, The plane did not actually crash but the case illustrates how increasingly Twitter is the first place a story will break and on-going commentaries ensue.  The old mantra of “tell it first, tell it fast” now better describes a Twitter user than the actions of the crisis communication team.

Twitter users communicate in real time, as things happen.  Their expectation is that organisations should be paying attention and respond likewise.  There is no differentiation between a life and death crisis or a minor one, the expectation is the same – instant.

Is this realistic?  I am aware of a few organisations where at least one person monitors Twitter and other RSS feeds on their PC.  In another open office the same information is constantly displayed via a large screen on the wall.  Paying attention however, is the easy part, a timely co-ordinated response much harder.  On noticing a breaking crisis, members of the team are alerted and crisis plans put into action.  Various people start the process of; verifying facts, writing statements, preparing spokespersons, and getting information out on all channels.  It is in this response stage where expectations depart from reality.  Checking facts takes time.  The “tell it accurately” part is essential for communicators if not for Twitter users.  How long is it acceptable to post or tweet “checking facts, further information to follow”.  Are we looking at a ‘golden hour’ for reputation in crisis response?

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12 Responses to Crisis response time on Twitter

  1. nicola says:

    It really is another new era for communicators. The success of Twitter (and many other social media) have already forced us to reconsider how we deal with crises. I can only imagine as the tech improves we will need faster, better, smarter responses.

  2. Harly says:

    Even though the first Tweet was inaccurate other Tweets were saying it was an engine problem before Quantas did. Companies need to respond quickly, but also get there facts right, within an hour would be nice but anything within a working day is acceptable. Its ok for the public to make quick inaccurate posts but companies press releases still hold a lot more weight than a few Tweets

    • Chris says:

      On the contrary, if it only takes hours or minutes for a tweet to crash a share price then it is very much in a company’s interest to be able to respond within that same time frame.

      If a company is in the process of raising share capital, or worse, going through an IPO, a temporary drop in share price, even for just an hour, can do permanent damage to the value held by existing shareholders or the financially cripple the company itself.

      Uncertainty, or risk, at least in this form is exactly the kind which large asset managers and pension funds are allergic to.


      • Chopper Harly says:

        Interesting view Chris, Do you feel that Rolls Royce responding in minutes would have helped the situation or made it worse? engines are clearly damaged. in initial pictures/reports

  3. Judge Jon says:

    For a start I would take anything that was on Twitter with a pinch of salt. Whatever you read people still wait to hear what someone like the BBC has to say about it. If there are no fatalities then are people really that bothered if you don’t hear anything till the main news slots. Are you sure it ain’t just media types that want to hear something quickly so they can put a story together.

  4. Claire Farfield says:

    I like the concept of learning about something in pretty much real time on Twitter. What is also great is the honesty of it, but I do agree that the non-experts can get the facts wrong, exaggerate, create Chinese whipsers etc, as was the case with the A380 story last week. I would therefore agree that information on twitter that is not from a professional source should be taken with a pinch of salt. What is conflicting is the most immediate responses are most likely to be from Mr inexperienced in crisis comms Joe Bloggs. So where is the balance? All considered I think that brand value of professional organisations, such as the BBC, are far more important, as we can rely on them (most of the time) to be objective, factual and truthful. What I do not think is acceptable in any way, in this day and age, is the response ‘Checking facts, further info to follow’. In no other part of life would you accept this statement from someone without demanding to know when update will be, especially in a serious crisis. Setting a deadline would be acceptable – Checking facts, further info to follow within the hour.

  5. roger says:

    Its obvious that it is going to take a while for large organisations to respond with the facts. It is not the response time that is important to me – that takes as long as it takes. What is important to me is that a response does eventually have to come – tweets give customers all invading cosmic power! By spreading a word, whisper or concern by tweet, stories and public perceptions and assumptions can snowball until there is a need for the company to respond. Crisis or trivia, genuine or fake, it results in large companies yielding to the masses -they have to tell us something. Its a new type of peer review and makes companies take greater responsibility for their services becuase it can directly affect the value of there stock… And let face it; that hits them where it hurts.

    Tweet on dudes!

  6. The Flying Scotsman says:

    Twitter was not the first website of its kind but it is certainly the most successful. Likewise, real-time communication is not new but with the advent of twitter, news is now reported by millions of individuals and is not subject to validation prior to posting.

    As Chris mentioned earlier, tweets can be damaging to the share price and value of a business. I agree with Chris’ comments but feel that it is a reflection on the increased importance of brand value and public perception rather than relevant facts. I feel that at the moment we do not authenticate the information on twitter as much as is required before we spread what we have learned to the people around us. Unfortunately, this means that people often believe the tweet rather than looking for the facts and questioning the source of the information. When shares are traded in real-time across the globe and short-trading takes place, increasing the volatility of share prices, we must be increasingly careful to validate our sources of information and ensure that things such as tweets do not unduly affect the value of companies.

    Separately, there is an expectation from “twits” that corporate response times should be extremely rapid but it is dangerous for this culture to persist. Whilst it is not unreasonable for us to expect a quick response to crises from corporations, we must be careful to ensure that societal pressure does not force the corporations into rash responses in order to satisfy these “twits,” many of whom have unrealistic expectations.

    Communication may have become faster and information more widely available but corporate response times have not responded in line with this nor do I believe they should. It takes time to corroborate facts and put together a measured response.


    • Hamish says:

      Och, ah just dont know aboot that. I’d rather take a chance and evacuate the building even if the suitcase bomb in the corrider wasn’t corroborated. Cant be pussyfooting aroond when there’s a real crisis to be sorted. Suppose it depends on context and perceived risk.

      Hamish MacDougall

  7. BOng says:

    Unfortunately, damage is done the moment such tweets appear. Hence it is paramount that whatever companies’ damage control unit is ready to pounce on that with facts/press release quickly. It could be easily done by rival companies trying to tarnish reputations.

  8. Anne Dyke says:

    Thanks folks. My own opinion is that we are looking at a ‘golden hour’ in crisis response. Getting something out on new media channels is something that should be built into every crisis response plan. As BOng quite rightly pointed out if your organisation is not providing a response someone else will be filling that gap for you. It is a small courtesy to leave a message that you are checking and provide information on when the public can expect to receive further information. A small courtesy that can preserve reputation. Validation of facts is still of paramount importance in any issue or crisis.

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