In a crisis, getting the right information quickly can be vital. People want to know what’s happened, why, and what is being done about it.
The rise of social media channels, especially Twitter, makes it easier than ever for people to vent their frustrations and ask questions, and for social media-savvy organisations to respond quickly and turn the situation to their advantage.
Today, when freak weather strikes or a transport network is crippled, many of those affected turn to Twitter for information, especially on their mobile phones. The challenge to those who must respond to such incidents is to monitor, manage and answer the deluge of questions.
Twitter deluge helps flood efforts
One organisation that knows about this challenge all too well is the Environment Agency. Over the past winter it dealt with major floods across the country, and its Twitter feed was swamped with information.
“At one point we were seeing 60 posts mentioning our account every minute,” Jo Winser, national digital engagement manager for the Environment Agency told V3.
Responding to such a deluge of inquiries and information required a major effort across the organisation, with accounts managed 24/7 and extra staff parachuted in to help with the social media accounts.
“The huge amount of information that we had being sent to us was exceptional. It was a steep learning curve for a lot of people but we had put training in place [in 2013] so that helped, but it was a challenge.”
For the Environment Agency the events of the winter, while tough, helped prove to the upper echelons of the organisation that social media channels can be a key tool for engaging with the public.
“During the flooding, referrals to our website from social media were very high. Usually our traffic is from Google or direct traffic as people seek advice, but during the floods, Facebook and Twitter were second and third, behind the BBC,” Winser said.
While for some it has taken major unplanned events to demonstrate the power social media has, for others it has been highly-organised events that have fuelled their social networking strategies.
Social transport networks
Transport for London (TfL) only joined Twitter at the beginning of 2012 as the Olympics Games loomed, its digital social media manager, Lucy Whitehead, explained.
"We realised London 2012 was going to be the first social games so we got on board and started by using automated messages to relay information,” she said.
“However, we soon realised that people didn’t want this information from a robot so we deployed a team member from the customer services centre to manage the account to deliver real-time information.”
Over time this push into social media has expanded dramatically. From one account with 13,000 followers in January 2012, TfL now manages 26 feeds and 1.5 million followers as of January 2014.
The feeds are at their busiest when there are major delays and during strike actions. One notable incident that Whitehead said demonstrated the power of social media was when the Victoria line control flooded – with concrete.
Whitehead said that by mixing their response to this with accurate information and a touch of humour they were both able to inform the travelling public, while helping show the human side of the organisation – a key objective for TfL.
“We just want a bit more love really. Not everybody does love us, yet, but that’s our aspiration. We want to show we are listening, that we care, and make it easier for people to contact us,” she explained.
HootSuite's helping hand
Helping TfL and the Environment Agency with their social needs is HootSuite. The company hosted its first European event in London on Wednesday, where a raft of customers, including TfL and the Environment Agency, were speaking.
HootSuite is growing rapidly on the back of the need for a way for firms to manage the increasing amount of social media channels they now have. The company now has over 400 European customer, with 100 added since January.
It promised a raft of new improvements over the rest of 2014, including a 99.99 percent uptime guarentee, as it expects the use of social media tools within enterprises to continue to grow.
HootSuite vice president for community, Jeanette Gibson, said: “Social is at a tipping point where it will become part of everyday business. We are seeing lots of enterprise momentum on social, mirroring the proliferation of social networks over the last two years."
She urged businesses not to ignore this trend, a point echoed by the social firm's CTO Ajai Sehgal, who cited an experience during his time at Microsoft when Bill Gates shrugged off the impending internet revolution as a mere fad.
"Don't make the same mistake with social," Sehgal urged attendees at the event.
Other brands at the HootSuite event who were keen to show they have heeded this warning ranged from NATO to Marie Curie Cancer Care, highlighting how social can be of benefit to all sorts of organisations.
Tony the Tiger over for breakfast
Of course, Twitter can prove itself outside of serious emergency situations as well, as TfL's Whitehead recalled: “We had an incident where a passenger got locked in a toilet. They tweeted us and we contacted the station manager who got them out.”
V3's favourite, though, was the time Kellogg's responded to a disgruntled customer by sending Tony the Tiger round for breakfast.
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Yeah, sorry about all that, simpers Zuckerberg