Social media expertise vital for comms teams

Every member of a communications team must be familiar with social media to effectively deal with a PR crisis, according to a panel of travel experts at the Abta Travel Conference.

ash cloud
The Icelandic volcano ash cloud crisis challenged travel companies’ comms teams

PR specialists in the travel sector, which is often affected by circumstances beyond its control such as civil unrest, aircraft failures and erupting volcanoes, discussed how best to handle rapidly unfolding crises.

They said that social media has undermined “the golden hour” that used to give comms teams a breathing space in which to assess the severity of a crisis and how best to respond.

All agreed that social media monitoring was as vital as monitoring traditional media to see how a situation was being reported but Victoria Bacon, Abta head of comms, pointed out that it’s “a massive job”. She added: “Rather than social media just being the function of one team member it’s important that anyone with any comms role is very familiar with social media.”

Russell Ison, group head of PR and communications for Monarch Group, said: “Social media affects the way we respond to a crisis using other media. if you are struggling to get your first statement out the chances are the situation will be tweeted out already.”

The need to correct anything erroneous put out on social media as swiftly as possible was stressed by Angle Sloan, regional director for the Kenya Tourist Board.

She added: “If something is coming out really quickly and is wrong you have to correct it – online media stays there. You have to check all the different sources and ask publishers to change things if they are wrong – don’t be afraid to go and correct an inaccuracy.”

The panel agreed on the importance of putting out a statement, even if only a holding statement, as soon as possible but making sure facts were accurate.

The need to say “sorry” was also stressed although, as Ison pointed out: “There will always be a discussion between PR and the legal department.”

Bacon added: “You can say you are really sorry [if it is an incident] where someone has lost their life while not accepting legal responsibility.”

TUI Travel’s handling of the Icelandic volcano ash cloud crisis was held up as a great example of crisis comms management. Speaking to Marketing Week earlier, at the Convention, TUI CEO Johan Lundgren said that in such a situation : “You have got to make sure you focus on the customer. You realise some incidents are out of your control but if you are honest and the customer knows you are focusing on them it works out well.”

Click here for more news from the Abta Travel Convention 2012.

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