How to tweet while Rome burns

At times of intense confusion, people look for answers on social media. Businesses should be brave enough to take advantage, says Emily Burt

Combine the instant gratification of the digital landscape and the fast pace of today’s political and social turmoil, and you get a world where moments of upheaval send people flocking to social media in search of reaction, opinion, or – regrettably – the latest all-caps soundbite from President Donald Trump. If your organisation can harness that energy, it’s a great way to galvanise and expand your online audience – and as digital content co-ordinator for People Management (the member magazine of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development), some of my greatest social media successes have been informed by confusion and chaos.

My standout experience of live-tweeting a crisis took place in the 24 hours following the EU referendum. Although pundits had discussed it in abstract terms, a ‘Leave’ victory was such an unexpected result that business (and HR in particular) went into a social media tailspin. People were desperate for answers, however vague, and helpfully our main competitor had been so confident in a ’Remain’ vote their entire team had left London for an out-of-office training day.

In the confusion, I was dispatched to the CIPD offices to hold an emergency #Brexit Q&A with CEO Peter Cheese. We threw up a graphic on our timeline urging followers to tweet in questions and queries surrounding the ‘leave’ vote, which I put to Peter and tweeted back out.

Followers engaged and immersed themselves in this dialogue with an immediacy that I had rarely experienced before, and our subsequent engagement analytics spoke for themselves. People Management’s average Twitter reach through 2016 was around 16,000 impressions a day. Our social activity in the 24 hours post-Brexit made it almost 126,000, with one tweet promoting our Q&A thread gaining more than 13,000 impressions in traction alone; our best-performing day of the year.

In the age of Fake News it’s understandable that many organisations choose to steer clear of the social media fray when a viral situation strikes; and there are plenty of good reasons for doing so – you’re less likely to get attacked by the President of the United States for one. But if you want to try driving your company through a social media crisis – or at any time – I can offer five vital tips:

Timing: Don’t tweet about every single crisis that strikes – only those of relevance to your audience and particularly when you can exploit a unique angle that ties to you and can be used to your advantage.

Worth: Don’t tweet the first statement that comes into your head. Act quickly, but try to inform your opinions as much as possible, and rely on expert contacts for nuanced insights.

Entertain: Be as creative as possible with the way you present information. Use graphics, pictures and GIFs to create grabby content and clickable content.

Engage: Social media is all about dialogue. Think of a practical way to involve your audience, whether running a Q&A workshop or an AMA (Ask Me Anything), or simply engaging with their own Twitter activity via likes or retweets.

Trends: Be aware of trending hashtags for the best chances of extending your reach beyond your existing audience.

There will always be an element of the random to social media practice, and I’m yet to solve the formula for consistently high-performing content. But with so many faceless eggs offering up opinions during a crisis, I always click on organisations offering an articulate alternative – and so will many others.