Handling Social Media in a Crisis

In the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, law enforcement officials quickly instructed bystanders to leave the area and return to their homes and hotels until the imminent danger had subsided. Since the race finish line was located near tourist-trafficked Copley Square, dozens of hotels were impacted by the event. With marathon attendees and participants frantically rushing out of the area and desperately trying to contact loved ones, it was imperative for hotels to engage in real-time social media conversations. Fortunately, many of the area’s hotels took to their respective Facebook and Twitter accounts to swiftly and effectively communicate with worried guests.

The Fairmont Copley Plaza responded on Facebook soon after the news of the disaster spread to assure followers that the hotel’s colleagues were safe. The hotel also answered each and every tweet directed at the hotel. The Lenox Hotel was similarly quick to update its Facebook page with news about when the hotel would re-open. The Mandarin Oriental, Boston also utilized Facebook and Twitter to assure followers that everyone was safe, despite the evacuation.

The Importance of Crisis Management
In the wake of an unexpected disaster, real-time, responsive communication is essential. Following the Boston bombings, hotels were cognizant of concerns and quickly allayed them with direct and transparent messaging. Each property addressed incoming questions promptly and worked hard to broadcast the safety precautions they were taking. Hotels also appropriately suspended any form of communication that was not relevant to the ongoing disaster and avoided any form of promotional or unrelated posts that may have been originally scheduled.


Contingency Planning for a Crisis Situation
While no one wants to think about potential disasters, it pays to be prepared and have a social media crisis plan in place. The following tips will help hotels craft a detailed course of action for communicating through online and mobile channels during a tense and chaotic situation:

Create a social media crisis policy. In times of sudden crisis, having a social media policy in place will fast track your response time and mitigate any negative impact to your hotel. Make sure to dedicate a specific person to respond on social media if a crisis occurs, and take into account others who might have access to the accounts, in case the primary person is unable to respond. Map out whether social media managers will be allowed to comment on the situation, or only post the hotel’s official response. In case people are injured, consider how much information should be shared. Although it is scary to imagine, your hotel should consider all possible scenarios and document your expectations.

Respond in real time. Most Boston hotels took immediate action on social media soon after the bombings occurred. Each property deviated from its normal social media planning process and took to each social network to communicate updates in real time. When doing this, be sure that your most senior social media communicators are involved to ensure that you maintain your brand voice and stay consistent with your messaging.

Keep only necessary stakeholders involved. When there are too many “cooks in the kitchen,” you lose brand consistency and face the potential of damaging your hotel’s reputation. To avoid this problem, make sure that you involve only the necessary stakeholders at your property. These individuals will usually be members of your marketing, communications, or public relations team.

Follow-up with an official response. Once the main crisis period has subsided, have your PR team craft an official hotel response to the situation. This message should be shared across all social networks and can also be fed to media, guests, and colleagues around the hotel.

Resume planned content strategy in time. The worst thing a hotel can do in a time of crisis is to continue sharing self-promotional messaging that has been scheduled in advance. After suspending this type of messaging, engage with fans and followers in a responsive way until order is restored and business is back to usual. Only then should you resume your planned social media content strategy.

Crisis situations come at unexpected times and almost always require real-time responsiveness through social media channels. Having a crisis plan in place will empower your communication team to nimbly navigate an emergency situation.

Greg Bodenlos is a marketing and social media manager at Revinate. He is a proud Cornell Hotel School alumnus and is fervently passionate about travel, technology. and social media.