Here's a little lesson that everything you write on Twitter is public, even if you think it's just a conversation between two friends.
My social media content is an extension of me, and I am generally not a jerk or a hair-trigger troll. I am unabashedly myself on Twitter, so I don't ever have to stay up late at night worrying about a Tweet or other social media post. If I think something could be misinterpreted or taken out of context, I don't Tweet it. It's that simple.
The week of the May 2015 Amtrak derailment, my friend and fellow PR pro Erin Hennessy and I were "talking" on Twitter about how disappointed we were in Amtrak's handling of the crisis, particularly on social media. PR Week magazine did a round up of how top PR pros were talking about the crisis on social media, and our back and forth made the cut:
PR Week: Crisis communicators skewer Amtrak's crash response on Twitter
Erin and I (and countless others) wondered how a passenger transportation company's PR team didn't have canned statements and social content at the ready to customize and communicate almost instantly given any kind of accident, crisis, or catastrophe. Even in client organizations I think are at low risk for crisis, we still do a crisis plan. It's just good practice.
How Amtrak fumbled so badly, I'll never understand. I want to believe their PR team is strong and talented, and were beating their heads against the wall because they couldn't get approval on statements or strategy. Still, PR pros shouldn't have to wait that long for others to give a green light. PR pros need to and must be among the decision-making team during a crisis (and every other aspect of the business).
The key to having strong crisis comms is for the PR team to have solid relationships with the lawyers and C-suite at all times, always always always. There has to be trust and open, proactive planning and communications. PR pros need to befriend the legal team ... bring lunch to the ops staff ... take the IT guys and gals out for drinks ... maintain open dialogue with media ... because building up the trust bank before a crisis happens means you have ready reserves when the fit hits the shan, as they say. It's rare, but when it happens it's magic, and crises are handled exponentially better than when those relationships don't exist.
Clearly, that wasn't the case at Amtrak. And, like I wrote in my Tweet -- I'd love to work with them on crisis planning, more open and trustworthy communication, identifying key decision makers, and rapid readiness. Many times, there's not a lot to say, or few details to provide. Still, silence (or a tone-deaf Tweet) is never the answer.