Rob Norman, writing on MediaBizBloggers.com, evoked nightmarish images of white sharks, zombies and tsunamis for crisis managers. On the heels of Saturday’s San Francisco plane crash, he introduced [to me at least] the Twitter concept of “blurting.”
The concept is simple: An event takes over Twitter — such as the plane crash — when a witness or victim establishes via Tweeting what happened. Then everyone else who feels they need to be in touch tweets about the event, whether they have zero knowledge about what’s actually happening or not.
Norman’s blog argued that people need to be more responsible and not just add to the clatter and clutter.
But the enormity of events and the instant access to information — accurate or not — will generate tweets, most of them irresponsible. That genie’s not going back in the bottle. Heck, most people think that providing a forum for blurting out semi-true information is Twitter’s mission.
What’s this mean for crisis managers? A multitude of worries. What’s true? What’s exaggerated, but accurate? How should you correct errors? Can you even begin to manage a Niagara Falls of information overload — especially when most of it is wrong? Where to begin?
Blurting is going to happen in a major crisis.
The next wave of updates reported the second death, and turned more sinister as reports emerged from the San Francisco FD that 60 passengers were unaccounted for, thereby shifting perception from miraculous escape to full-blown tragedy. Happily this information, despite the thousands of re-tweets, proved inaccurate within another hour, and after around six hours the scale of the incident was back to its original level.
Inevitably the volume of posts multiplied in synch with the apparent gravity of the news, and one almost got the sense of a feeding frenzy around becoming a commentator on a major event. This rather begs the question, “Should there be any etiquette in tweeting information you do not have first-hand, or re-tweeting information that has already passed through every established news organization?” The question one might ask is, “Am I adding value or perspective to the story?” Reading through the thousands of tweets the only conclusion one could reach is that few contributors could answer yes to that question; many more simply confused the signal with more noise and in turn made the underlying narrative harder to follow for the people who wanted information but had no intention of commenting on it.
As my EMA colleague Evan Bloom put it so succinctly:
“ ‘The Blurt’ is a massively dangerous issue because it drives the Twitter stream and can turn it into a tidal wave of brand destruction. It shows how important it is to have a social media crisis plan that has the necessary strategies and tactics to deal with the “Blurt.’ ”
You’ve been warned, thanks to Norman and Bloom [and to Eric Mower for flagging it].
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.