Category Archives: social media in crisis communication

Qantas Airbus 380 emergency reveals social media challenges

Oh boy, this is what we in crisis communication in the age of citizen journalists and instant social media have been talking about. Today (10 Am Singapore time) a Qantas Airbus 380 mega-carrier on its way to Sydney had an explosion in an engine and made an emergency landing back in Singapore. While the plane was in the air, a passenger sitting at a window above the wing shot video with his cellphone clearly showing the increasing damage to the wing. The pilot can be heard explaining what is going on and what they are doing.

Meanwhile, twitter is going nuts with reports from passengers, including photos, being retweeted all over the place about the emergency landing.

So, here we have high drama being played out in real time with citizen journalists reporting. The question is, what is Qantas doing and how are they responding to the instant news?

Good thing: they have a Facebook page and Twitter account preset which they are using for marketing and customer relations.

Bad thing: They got the initial information completely wrong, they did not (and as of this writing) still have not tweeted anything about it. They did get a statement up on their website but I don’t know how long it took to do that. The statement did correct media reports saying the plane had crashed, however Reuters reported that Qantas told CNBC that the plane had crashed.

The other information they got wrong, according to this post on tnooz is that at the same time that Qantas was telling Australian media that no wreckage from the damage plane was found, there were photos showing up on Twitter (yfrog) that showed people on the island of Batam holding up pieces of wreckage with the Qantas logo on it.

The other thing that Qantas did very right was immediately ground all their brand spanking new Airbus 380s. You don’t want to have engines blowing up on brand new airplanes–actually, you don’t want that on really old airplanes either.

What’s the bottom line? Qantas had done so many things right in terms of preparation, but overall would get probably get a C- to F grade in this event for these reasons:

– they didn’t communicate where the most active, relevant communication was happening–Twitter

– they provided at least some incorrect information early on. Even if I give them the benefit of the doubt and say the Reuters got it wrong, which I suspect, they still denied the existence of aircraft damage when the evidence was pretty clear.

What we have been saying here for a long time is: 1) Be fast or be irrelevant. Given the speed and failure to use Twitter to a large degree their communication became significantly less relevant. 2) Don’t lose credibility by inaccurate information.

What they should have done in the obviously hectic first hour or so of this event, is communicated on Twitter and through their website, Facebook, etc., that they are aware of the incident, they can confirm an engine problem and that as soon as they have additional information they can confirm they will publish it. At least they would have been part of the stream.

Twitter and crisis communication–some thoughts from Neil Chapman

My friend Neil Chapman and I were having an interesting discussion yesterday about Twitter and its use as a crisis communication tool. I was discussing some concerns about how it works great if you are independent and have full freedom to communicate without approvals, a vetting process, or if you are not part of a joint response such as occurs in a Joint Information Center. I am working on a White Paper on this and will share it with Crisisblogger readers when it is done.

Neil had some interesting perspectives about other problems with using Twitter which he is sharing with us in this post:

What a difference a year makes, even though the new one is just a few days old.

Britney Spear’s Twitter feed was hacked, according to the UK’s Guardian newspaper.  She’s wasn’t alone. About the same time Apple suffered a similar attack, according to the Huffington Post.

For me – and I assume other crisis communicators – Twitter hit our radar screens in a dramatic way during 2008. In terms of eye-witness reporting, the Mumbai attacks saw Twitter come into its own, according to Forbes. And some individual organizations used Twitter to enhance communications during events they responded to, notably the Los Angeles Fire Department (@LAFD) and Public Service of New Hampshire (@psnh). A fascinating development that crisisblogger highlighted along with other developments involving Twitter.

But Apple and Britney have discovered Twitter can bite them.  As a Twitter user I have to do a lot of work – sign up and into my account , ensure I’m following the right people or organization, regularly check the information stream by scrawling through all my tweets to get what I want – then click somewhere else! There’s some push  but a lot of pulling.

Just last week the Twittersphere was abuzz with a nasty phishing attack. Twitter, as a service, seemed to be caught on the back foot with just a tiny word warning posted on home pages very late on, but that disappeared after a couple of days. On more than one occasion I signed in to be told to come back later. There was too much Twittering going on!

The lesson for me isn’t that organizations like LAFD and PSNH adopted Twitter as a channel to enhance their crisis communications and that it’s a best practice we all need to adopt. What they did is demonstrate they have the right philosophy – of timely, targeted information updates during crises.

The channel itself has shown to be insecure and less than perfect – a bit like Britney really ( though I do like her music).

Neil Chapman

UCLA Emergency Manager's view on the need for multimode notifications

I was absolutely thrilled to come across this post by David Burns, CEM(r), Emergency Manager with UCLA. It shows the growing awareness of the limitations of SMS text messaging–it simply is not the panacea that so many in emergency management in universities seemed to think after Virginia Tech. Mr. Burn’s listing of the different modes of communication used today is more comprehensive than anything else I’ve seen.

Here are his comments as posted to the IAEM Discussion board:

People nowadays are connected to wide variety of technology to share and
gather information:

– they listen to the radio (AM and FM), including NOAA weather alerts;
– they listen to satellite radio (XM & Sirius;
– they use social networking sites (friend’s lists);
– they listen to podcasts;
– they use the Internet;
– they watch television (cable, over-the-air, and satellite);
– they text each other and receive text messages (SMS);
– they listen to amateur radio and public safety scanners;
– word of mouth, etc.

Our alert systems need to be just as diverse, flexible and adaptable to
the means by which people receive and exchange information.  With the
incidence of campus violence becoming a popular subject, college campus
administrators and campus emergency managers are looking to improve how
they communicate with their campus communities.   Because funding is
always an issue, especially in the surge of an economic slowdown, money
is the driving issue.

The solution in improving communication is money-based as in where do
you get the biggest bang for the buck?   In the year that has passed,
many SMS text-messaging vendors misrepresented the real-world
capabilities of text-messaging system to many of the folks who purchased
a product.   Now they have a resource, but with extreme limitations and
a broad definition of what successful delivery is? – from minutes to

Every resource we have in our mass notification arsenal all have
limitations.   Anyone who relies on just one single system is probably
foolish to believe that any one resource can be the “end-all, be all”
resource for a community as diverse as a college campus.   In fact, I
would suggest that you are actually increasing your risk and liability
for litigation by reliance on any single system.  Money drives this
logic, as people “settle” for what they can afford, knowing it will not
work, but are willing to roll the dice to have something tangible in
place, something to deflect potential criticism.

I spoke with a Virginia Tech administrator in June 2007, two months
after the massacre.  The one thing that I heard, and have listened to is
to “never settle for what you can’t afford.”   Their after-action report
was clear; many of their systems became overwhelmed because of the
tragedy as a result of geography (rural – limited capabilities), limited
systems, network and system bandwidth limitations, coupled with
worldwide demand for information is recipe to bring any local system(s)
crashing down.

SMS is only one resource.  It has severe limitations.   Use of SMS has
increased significantly over the past 5 years, especially in the past 14
months.  Technology advances make many systems obsolete within a couple
of years.  If everyone is using a system, increased use increases the
likelihood of failure in an emergency.

We currently use a SMS/text resource on our campus.   66% of the
students have refused to sign up despite regular marketing campaigns,
meaning that investment in such systems have limited success.   SMS
nationwide is rejected by the students themselves based on a 30% percent
sign-up average.   This issue alone makes the use of SMS limited in its
success by the sheer apathy of the student community itself.

We currently utilize 15 independent system resources to alert students,
faculty, and staff of an emergency on campus, and have yet to achieve
100% coverage because of the number of systems people are attached to or
not attached to on a daily basis.   We will continue to add resources to
increase our outreach.

Be well,

David S. Burns, CEM(r)
Emergency Manager

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Office of the Associate Vice Chancellor
General Services / Emergency Management Office

Social Media and impact on crisis communication

Last week I gave a presentation at the Whatcom Business Conference on social media and how it impacts small businesses. It helped me take a step back and get a little more perspective on how important these changes are for almost anyone in business today. Chuck Wolf, our partner with Media Consultants in Houston, suggested a few weeks ago that we do a white paper on social media and its impact on crisis communication. We agree and are starting to work on that using the survey we did for this conference as a basis.

But what does social media really mean for crisis communicators. Revolution. Nothing less. The internet created the post media world where the domination of those who had the capital invested in mass media began to decline. No longer were millions or billions needed in order to widely distribute information and be influential in forming public opinion.  But web 2.0 or social media took us in a whole new direction. Actually, it took us back to the days where the only form of media was voice. No machines, no electronics, no digits, no electromagnetic waves, nothing. Just one person talking to another or a group of others. What dominated that form was interaction. It wasn’t just one talking to a listener or a small audience, it was discussion, debate, back and forth. And the internet with social media has brought us full circle. But now we combine the machine, the electronics and the digits with the interactivity of highly social settings.

Interactivity is the key to understanding the direction of the future in crisis communication. It is not about the audience any more. In fact, the audience concept seems headed for the dustbin of history. It is about friends. It is about talking directly to one or millions individually and at the same time. You say it can’t be done? I say it must and will be done.