Is Twitter the new holding statement platform for a crisis?

Video footage of a badly damaged United Airlines aeroplane engine, complete with flames, went viral this week – forcing prompt responses from the airline, Boeing and the FAA. 

All chose Twitter as one of the first platforms to distribute early responses. Ragan’s PR Daily has a great summary of the Tweets. 

News organisations such as CNN are quick to report crises situations, leaving little time for organisations to respond.

“The classic crisis holding statement doesn’t ‘hold’ for long in modern crises.”

Gerry McCusker

Holding statements, an official message from an organisation involved in the crisis, have always been a mainstay of crisis communication. Being able to say something when there is little to say is often important when dealing with the media and community. Holding statements can be important because as the Business Continuity Management Institute suggests, they “help control the message… following an incident”.

Social media, however, has changed the crisis management landscape according to Australian Crisis Expert Gerry McCusker. 

“The classic crisis holding statement doesn’t ‘hold’ for long in modern crises,” according to Gerry in an IPA 2020 Thought Leadership Essay. 

“Just as a week is a long time in politics, an afternoon can seem like an age on Twitter if a scandal-scorched company fails to publish,” Gerry says.

“When a brand only ‘holds’, they become irrelevant to the crisis narrative…and that can be very bad for confidence, trust and reputation.”

United Airlines was quick to issue a statement via Twitter regarding the safety of flight UA328’s passengers and crew.

This suggests that whilst the speed of response is important (and that’s where Twitter can help), good quality relevant information is crucial. 

“Crisis-hit communities crave quality information and if you’re ‘holding out’…they’ll perceive you as less relevant to what they expect and, in fact, need,” Gerry concludes. 

If you’re responsible for crisis communication within your organisation, are you confident that if a crisis hits, you’ll quickly receive information, and that your approval process is agile enough to respond in the age of Twitter?

Students: What do you think would be some of the difficulties associated with getting information during a crisis? What could you do before a crisis hits to ensure that you’re quickly, and well informed, about issues? Who within an organisation might be responsible for authorising the release of information? Could this process cause any adverse issues? Comment below.

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