HK firms overlook social media in crisis communications

With the speed at which news travels today, companies are often left to play catCommunication is a key component of any incident handling. Are Hong Kong companies ready to step up the plate when things go awry? An organization that has a business continuity and/or crisis management plan in place in theory has the existing mechanism to quickly issue alerts, advisories and regular updates to internal staff, partners and customers until normal business operations resume.

Several local incidents that hit the headlines in recent months showed that companies in Hong Kong need to ramp up training on their communication skills in emergency situations.

In February, the MTR Corporation was hit by three incidents: two water leaks in its South Horizon station and Sai Ying Pun station, which occurred six days apart, and the more serious evening rush hour fire-bombing inside a train bound for Tsim Sha Tsui station. A month later, a 45 m escalator in Langham Place in Mongkok suddenly reversed its direction and ran two to three times faster than normal, injuring several people and sending a number of weekend shoppers into a panic.

What tie together these incidents was how quickly social media disseminated the information to the public at large almost in real time. With the speed with which news travelled, the companies were left to play catch up.

Get a handle of social media

“Social media has made crisis communications a very important part of every business continuity management program. You cannot hide anymore – people are fact checking everything you say,” said Roberta Witty, research vice president, Gartner.

She urged companies to read the note on “The Do’s and Don’ts of Using Social Media in Business Continuity Management” for more advice.

Unfortunately, many companies do not pay enough attention to their social media platforms before, during and after a crisis, according to Daniel Bould, regional director for crisis management at Aon.

“Many companies do not have twitter feeds or even a Facebook profile on their brand, making it difficult for some to use these tools to communicate effectively and efficiently. There have been cases where corporations have experienced a public crisis where their name and brand have been tarnished when social media platforms have been established by nefarious individuals under that companies’ brand/name – making it very difficult to control the ‘message’,” he said.

He added companies need to get better at reaching out to and coordinating with their client base or involved parties using all forms of available communication.

“Sadly, many companies have not embraced social media platforms and do not see these tools as key communication components,” Bould said.

Get your act together

When an incident is still unfolding, Witty pointed out that communicating to internal and external stakeholders makes the difference between the perception that the organization is in control versus out of control.

“A lot of fear, uncertainty and doubt get created in the absence of information about the event, so the organization needs to communicate to its stakeholders on a regular basis about the status of the event to provide situational awareness,” she said.