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Using Social Media in a Disaster

Below are some best practices for using social media as part of an effective crisis and emergency risk communication plan.

Before a Disaster

Build social media into your organization’s disaster communication plan

  • Assign specific roles and responsibilities
  • Ensure that all staff who will use social media are familiar with your plan
  • Build social media into exercises and training

Build your social media audience before a disaster

  • Establishing a credible presence in advance will help spread your message during a disaster
  • Maintain a continued presence on these channels so that you retain existing followers and continue to encourage new users
  • Identify existing social media platforms used by partner agencies and Follow/Like them in order to help broaden your reach

Enroll in Twitter Alerts

  • Enrolling in Twitter Alerts will allow people to “subscribe” to your organizations so that any message you tag as “critical” will be delivered to them as a push notification or text message, putting your must-know information directly in front of them

During a Disaster

Cease normal operations for social media

  • Cancel any automated or scheduled content that is not relevant to the current situation as it may be viewed as insensitive
  • Even if a disaster happens outside your area, acknowledging it will build credibility with your audience and helps make you a trusted source of information during a disaster


  • Monitor and coordinate the use of #Hashtags with partner agencies. Using the same #Hashtag will make it easier for your audience to get the information they need
  • Encourage your audience to use the hashtag when asking questions or conveying needs. This will make it easier for your agency to see important information from them.
  • Include links to additional information whenever possible. Messages with images, particularly on Facebook, are more likely to be viewed

Rumor control

  • Verify any information before you share it
  • Actively monitor all of your channels for rumors and misinformation and correct rumors as quickly as possible

Consider encouraging questions and concerns from your audience

  • Only do this if you have the staff to actively monitor your accounts and respond
  • If done well, this can greatly enhance the credibility of your agency and help address the needs of your audience

Give your audience a call to action – early and often

  • Giving people things to do – even easy tasks like checking a link to learn more, or checking on a neighbor – can help them remain calm and take productive steps to help them stay safe in a disaster

Cross promote accounts

  • Promote each of your existing channels wherever possible to broaden your reach and make it easier to reach your audience
  • Monitor and ReTweet/Share relevant information from partner agencies

Use social media to broaden the reach of your existing channels

  • For example, consider live-tweeting the key points from a press conference your agency (or partner agency) is holding
  • Have a YouTube channel? Upload a copy of the press conference to it for people who may have missed it (or couldn’t view it because of a loss of power) on tv
    • Example: New York City during Hurricane Sandy

Hold a social media report meeting at the end of each day

  • Review monitoring efforts and updated messaging strategy with communications team

Adhere to Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication (CERC) Principles

  • Social media offers incredible effective channels for facilitating two-way communication with your audience during an emergency. However, it is only a channel – the message content is still what counts. Be first, be right, and be credible. Convey empathy early, tell people what they can do to stay safe, and be respectful of your audience and their concerns