The three roles of social media in crises

We all (most anyway) know that social media and digital communications play a primary role in creating, expanding and responding to crises today. But it all seems sort of a mishmash, so I found these comments from Dallas Lawrence very helpful in distinguishing the three roles that social and digital media play:

First, social media is an instigator. Were there not a social platform that allows us to send out our every thought, or record every stupid thing that happens, the crisis wouldn’t have occurred.

The next role is that of accelerant. A similar crisis may have happened 20 years ago, but it would not have metastasized so quickly without social media. So Lawrence stresses we must be prepared to act immediately instead of waiting and seeing.

The third and most important role social media plays is extinguisher. We can use social media effectively before, during, and after a crisis to mitigate the damage, and in some cases actually eliminate the crisis.

Lawrence, a newly minted school board member, and corporate communications officer for Mattel, spoke at a conference in DC last week and BurrellesLuce recorded his 14 tips on social media in crises in this article.

One additional comment about those roles. Lawrence rightly points out that organizations in crisis can and should use social media to help extinguish the crisis. But it should also be pointed out that social media often extinguishes crises on its own. False information, agenda-based attacks, acceleration of real but small problems can all be easily amplified on social media. But others not related to the organization but who have an interest in truth, justice and the American Way can also respond and extinguish. It’s an important reminder that collective intelligence does often work effectively to clarify, correct and protect.

3 thoughts on “The three roles of social media in crises”

  1. This is a great description of roles. An additional thought on “Extinguisher” Resolving the crisis doesn’t mean trying to hide that it ever happened by deleting comments or suppressing social media activity. Better to let story of extinguishing be told and then leverage that to discuss salvage, overhaul, and recovery.

  2. Last week I was media trained by Jonathan Bernstein and we focused mainly on interviewing during a crisis. I appreciate these social media tips and am interested to observe an example of these in action. I agree that it is important to remember that social media is an uncontrollable medium.

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