Tweeting out the storm: Lessons from #Sandy

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How many of you spent a portion of your time last week watching #Sandy? I'm referring to the Twitter hashtag, not the storm. The Twitter stream themes ranged from saving lives to acting as an information lifeline, to providing comic relief, to political parody, to circulating falsehoods, to just downright embarrassment. 

This storm is not at all the first time that Twitter has acted as an essential tool for first response communications. In fact, my earliest memories of the power of Twitter come from the success that the channel had in  2007 during the San Diego, California fires.  First response communications are exceptional in that they MUST work, flawlessly. They must work when power is down, when communication networks are saturated and when speed is critical. And they need an army of credible participating sources for collaboration and accuracy. This kind of crisis communication pushes the boundaries of communication excellence and provides many lessons for our daily roles as marketers and social communicators.

Lesson #1: Conserve energy.

I was amazed to be communicating with Tweeters who started their posts with "I don't have power right now but"... The #Sandy conversation was nurtured in some cases via mobile phones, mobile networks, batteries and generators. As I was monitoring this conversation on my big flat screen monitor, connected via wireless to a laptop, I marveled at how well a "low energy", low word-count conversation works. This lesson sets us on the path to thinking about communications using lower-energy models.

Lesson #2: Aspire to hyperspeed.

Social channels can be faster than a speeding hurricane. Traditionally, our communications are edited, reviewed and re-reviewed to maintain solid brand consistency. In a crisis, we learn to cut through the review cycles and demand content excellence upfront. 

Lesson #3: Be cool.

It's our responsibility as marketers to hold ourselves to our good ethics. Let's collectively avoid giving marketing a bad rap due to brand  "faux pas".  I saw a post in which the marketers said that they wouldn't be back up to full power until Friday, but added a 10% discount code for no other reason I could tell than to use the situation to get out a promo. Marketing spam in the face of disaster is just plain bad taste. Enough said.

Lesson #4:  Be present and ready.

Most brands do not have 100% employee participation in Twitter. This Twitter thing is not right for everyone and not everyone should be chartered with developing sustained engagement in the channel.  #Sandy is a reminder that a solid base of employees signed up and trained on the communication tool means that the company is poised to listen or participate in any situation, and particularly in a crisis.

My thoughts go out to all who were or are still impacted by the storm. A big thanks to all who helped provide comfort and aid to the victims and to the Twitter network for pushing us all to communication excellence.

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