Don’t wait for a crisis to hit before you build your social media network. Build it now! Social media is a very powerful crisis management tool, but only so if you have used it long before a crisis hits. This article will explain why as a small business owner you should merge social media into the way you communicate and respond to a crisis. Over a relatively short time, social media sites have gained wide audiences, and it is no surprise that they play a vital role in helping people respond to crises of many shades and hues. Social media, for example, “have been used to coordinate volunteer efforts, raise money, spread information, save lives after the earthquake in Haiti and… in the cleanup effort for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill,” writes By Seth Liss in Social media is an indispensable tool in times of crisis. However, when crisis hits - be a flood, an earthquake or an outbreak of violence as often the case in Jamaica - small business operators are often caught in the middle of it all. Facing the current civil unrest, as the current situation in the City of Kingston, Spanish Town, and Portmore, most of you have had to pull down your shutters and ceased doing business for the time being. Besides, many of you will have incurred increased costs for security, suffer a decreased in productivity and motivation of staff, and a drop in creativity, ingenuity and resourcefulness of staff. But what can you do? “The worst thing in a crisis is not knowing,” says Torben Rick in a recent blog post, How to use social media as a crisis management tool. “This is where social media can be useful as a tool to keep people informed. Update regularly as things unfold and make sure you are updating with actual developments. The benefit of having a well established blog or online community is that you can then use it for this purpose.” Not only are you able to keep your staff and client base informed, but you can involve them in a discussion on the situation. For instance, you could have a discussion with them on what will be the true impact on their lives and livelihood. This will help to prevent them from panicking and knowing exactly what the situation is. It doesn’t matter what’s the crisis, one thing is certain, managing any kind of crisis that affects your business, with some sound social media marketing strategies and effective PR tactics, you’ll not only survive, but move to a new level of relationship building. Once you recognise that, you’d have realised how important a weapon it could be in your media arsenal when it comes to facing any kind of crisis. As an independent PR and social media marketing strategist, I’d suggest you develop and launch a social plan with the sole purpose to highlight ongoing developments and help establish a closer and more intimate dialogue with your staff and client base. As the crisis continues, I noted a number of large organisations and businesses have made use of the electronic media to communicate with people. As small businesses, you are more likely operating on a tight budget, and certainly, you couldn’t afford such an expensive venture. However, you could make use of the awesome power of the various social media methods - totally free of cost. Social media methods I am referring to include, Text Messaging, blogs, Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, MySpace, and Flickr, just to name a few. Twitter, for example, can be used to provide up-to-the-minute news. Through Twitter, you could provide updates, and re-tweeted news from the media to your followers. By utilising these methods, you could get prompt and accurate messages out to your staff and loyal customer base. The idea is for you to focus your attention, renewed your dedication, and repositioned your business in the minds of your staff as the employer of choice; and to your customer base as a business of choice. If you haven't yet incorporate social media methods into your crisis management plan, then start now. Recently, I came across an excellent article about how to Incorporate Social Media into Your Crisis Management Plan by Aneta Hall. It does provide a set of activities you’ll need to do before and after the crisis unfolds. It’s an interesting read. Don’t wait for a crisis to hit before you build your social media network. Do it now, so that when a crisis hits, you’ll already have a workable system in place for dealing with the situation. Start with You’ll need a blog or an online community that people recognise as the place to go for information or to talk about whatever crisis confronts your business. The bottom-line: you need a well established presence in social media, long before a crisis hits. Without an “engaging” social media plan in place, you’ll have a difficult time when things go awry. Besides, you really do need to have a history of engaging your staff and customers - not just running social media marketing campaigns. What do you think? Please share your comments with us. ~~~ If you are interested in creating a comprehensive social media marketing strategy, I am ready to help. Visit Whyte-Hall Social Media home page to learn more about our services and how we can help your business establish a meaningful social media presence.