Disaster Tweeting and the Importance of Timely Community Management

On Tuesday 19 June, just before 9pm, Melbourne experienced a 5.3 magnitude earthquake, taking the city completely by surprise.

“EAETHQUAKE?”

I was at home, alone, when the windows started shaking and I felt the floor moving. The entire experience was quite scary and surreal – but as I was sitting at my desk, the first thing I thought to do was question if that was something others had experienced.

My first tweet, at 8.54pm, simply asked ‘eaethquake?’ – complete with typo, in my haste to receive confirmation I didn’t imagine the whole thing. Within seconds, others tweeted the exact same thing, as comments about the strength of the quake joined them and how frightening the experience was flooded the feed.

Taking it to the Tweet

Over the next two hours, I tweeted thirty times, sharing information and stories with the twitterverse and conversing with others about our experiences. I received 48 mentions in this time, and numerous retweets, all the while trying to ascertain exactly what had taken place.

While Twitter and Facebook confirmed within one minute that Melbourne had experienced a rather strong earthquake, it took the traditional news outlets (The Age and Herald Sun online) up to 30 minutes to post anything on their news pages, and the television channels also lagged behind in getting a breaking news banner going on screen.

Following the debate earlier this week about the viability of newspapers after Fairfax made drastic changes to their service and advised the loss of 1900 job in the coming months, the aftermath of the earthquake in Melbourne evidenced that when it comes to breaking news, traditional print just doesn’t cut it anymore – and in some cases, neither does online.

Meanwhile, hundreds took to the phone to contact family and friends, as reported by Telstra, with a fourfold increase in voice calls.

After a time on Twitter, the conversation turned from serious to silly and the many personalities of the internet started posted amusing images and videos related to the earthquake. These were in turn shared hundreds of times – and have been reposted on news sites 24 hours later.

Trending: #earthquake

While the Twitter conversation raged with the hashtags #earthquake and #melbquake (with the topic reaching as high as the second most trending topic worldwide), it became evident that there are some organisations whose social media community management just wasn’t up to scratch.

Some brands took advantage of the earthquake, tweeting about experiences and talking part in the conversation, while others’ automated and pre-posted tweets appeared in the feed and were most likely ignored.

Hence the importance of remembering your content plan and engaging crises management – or at least the basics of social media community management – when something of this magnitude (no pun intended) hits.

While you are tweeting about the sale you are about to have, no one is listening. When you talk about how great your partner organisations are, no one could care less. But if you have a switched on community manager who can cancel posts that are irrelevant to the main topic of conversation and engage in meaningful chatter with your community, you are truly being social.

A great example of some opportunistic social media marketing was undertaken in the hours following the quake by Grill’d hamburgers, who offered all Victorians free chips with the purchase of a burger for Wednesday 20 June. Clever, and timely.

Just remember…

Ultimately, the thing to remember in the event of a ‘disaster’ (or any major news event) is that social media is the place people turn to in a time of needing information. If your brand is there spruiking their own agenda, you will be ignored – or indeed laughed at for not having the good sense to be switched on. But, if you are present and contributing, you will be remembered for being savvy and on the ball.

What kind of brand do you want to be?

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