Social Media & BCM/Disaster Recovery: Helpful or a Nuisance?

OK, first off, I know this is a hot topic; every person I’ve spoken to (or brought it up to me) has a strong opinion on Social media.  I’ve got news for you though, regardless of your perspective on Social Media; it’s here to stay.  I can’t see blackberries, Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, Twitter and many other sites suddenly disappearing over night, so get used the idea. 

What we, as BC/DR practitioners and professionals have to do is come to terms with it and see how it can be utilized in our industry.  Sure, many vendors have facebook pages and some professionals tweet non-stop about their products and services but there’s more to it  – pro’s and con’s if you will.

  1. Facebook Page for Employees – I remember working for one client and they began to think about using a social networking site for external marketing but also one for internal communications, especially when a disaster strikes.  They were even thinking of using for snow storms and other weather related instances so that they could let staff know whether to come to the office of not.  The thought was for it to be a joint venture between Human Resources and Marketing and when someone was hired (or left the company), one of the first things they had to do – like stopping payroll processes – they’d remove the person from the social site or add a person to the site (if applicable). 
  2. Education Over Eradication – Instead of continually trumpeting the “don’t use social media sites” try and educate people on their use.  Let people know that if they send rumours or unproven facts at the outset of a crisis or disaster, they could be causing issues for themselves or their colleagues.  If they make note that someone may have died in the disaster (even though there may not have been) it could unnecessarily scare the heck out of people’s families and cause unneeded stress.  So if you can’t eradicate, then educate.
  3. Can Get Your Message Out Quicker – One thing that can help an organization, is that it’s message can be distributed and accessed by more people – and faster – than using conventional methods.  If the communications manager uses this tool right away, the right message can be sent out to the public, the media and quite possible the staff, who are probably texting each other and doing searches on their personal devices anyway.  Right from the beginning, there is the opportunity to stop any false accusations, rumours, conjecture and other items that can spoil the restoration and recovery efforts of any corporation.
  4. It Will Be Used Before You Can Even Blink – You might be able to block emails and internet access to social sites but you can’t stop people from using cell phones and other personal devices.  They will be used to pass information back and forth and find out what’s going on.  They might even sent notes to each other asking if they want to go for coffee while they wait to get back into the facility after evacuation.  They will be used, like it or not.
  5. You Can Block It But You Can’t Stop It – Sure, you have the tools to stop corporate use and internet access to many website; pornography, hate sites, gambling sites etc but unless you confiscate people’s personal devices, you can’t stop its use.  Remember, there are 10’s of millions of users (100’s of millions even) so there is nothing – in the foreseeable future – that is going to stop the use of these sites.

 Here’s two examples of where Twitter and social media sites helped out during a disaster/crisis situation. 

  1. Virginia Tech Shooting – I’ve hunted for the reference but couldn’t find it again but I do recall reading an article about this.  It loosely stated that within a hour of the disaster, authorities were able to piece together who had been shot and who hadn’t based on communications using social networking site.  The university itself wasn’t able to release or confirm any of this information until several hours later – they didn’t use social networking as a tool. 
  2. TSN Sports (Canada) – A friend of mine received a tweet from hockey ‘insider’ Darren Dreger on Twitter saying this; “TSN’s email system has been down for over 12 hrs. Texts and twitter have kept us going.”  Proves that social network sits have their positive aspects, though I have no idea if he was reprimanded for telling the public TSN was having email issues. 

I’m sure there might be more examples but this isn’t supposed to be a book – yet – so I’m keeping the list short.

A personal experience with social networks.

  1. Ottawa, Ontario Earthquake (June 23, 2010) – At 1:41pm on June 23, 2010, an earthquake measuring 5.0 hit an area northeast of Ottawa (Canada’s Capital) in the province of Quebec.  We felt the tremors where we were (west of Toronto).  Though it was minor in our location, it didn’t stop people from looking at twitter, facebook and websites (the 1st two on personal devices) to gain information on what the situation was.  Husbands and wives were texting each other saying what they knew or didn’t know.  The building we were in wasn’t evacuated – it wasn’t needed – but if it was, the fact would have been that before the building had been evacuated many of the staff were already on social network sites getting information…and we hadn’t even reached the ‘safe assembly locations’ yet.  They had more information than the “Disaster Team” did, as they would have still been evacuating the facility and had yet gathered to assess the situation.  Social media is a quick way to gain information – both good and bad.

 Social media is what you make of it.  Love it or hate it, it’s here.  Fighting against something doesn’t make it go away so if that’s the case, investigate opportunities where it might – and I do mean might – be of use to your organization during crisis or disaster.  It’s one thing to utilize it for marketing and research purposes but it’s something entirely different when a disaster strikes.  People want their updates, direction, guidance and actions items fast – what’s faster than the social media network? Not much actually.  Forget people calling each other, they’ll text in no time. 

It’s up to you if you want to leverage these applications/services or not but just know that whether you do or decide not to, your employees will (and are). 

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