Twitter Crisis Management Test #Fail Embarrasses CT DOT

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    A botched practice run can create a very real crisis

    It’s great to see so many organizations hopping on board with social media as a Twitter crisis management communications tool, but the rush is leaving many open to mistakes as well. For example, when testing new notification systems in mid-April, Connecticut’s Department of Transportation forgot one important rule – either don’t test in a live environment, or make sure people know that it is indeed a test.

    The DOT sent two tweets that because they looked exactly like the typical posts going out from an account similar to, and using the same hashtags employed by, its statewide traffic update account, had stakeholders very concerned indeed. The first read:

    Cleared: (31914004) Ferry Update: Chester Ferry ran out of fuel and went out to sea.#cttraffic

    …and the second was just as bad:

    Cleared: (31914003) Ferry Update: Rocky Hill Ferry sank to the bottom of the river after being struck by the Chester Ferry. #cttraffic

    The mistake was quickly caught by members of the media, and the DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick gave a horrible statement, further compounding the situation:

    “We were doing some test tweets from a separate account. They weren’t supposed to be going live. We were backfilling with some funny ones while we worked out how to add the ferry information to our Twitter feed.”

    We’re not sure who would consider passenger ferries sinking to be “funny”, but we certainly wouldn’t want them running any transportation we were trusting our lives to.

    If you’re doing to be publishing reports of negative situations for Twitter testing or training purposes, it’s best to do so in an offline environment. If you must do it live for some reason, make very certain that the words “THIS IS A TEST” appear prominently. In fact, even if you’re working with good old-fashioned pen and paper, we strongly advise putting something to the effect of “MOCK SCENARIO – FOR TRAINING PURPOSES ONLY” in large, boldfaced font right smack at the top of the page.

    Practice makes perfect, but if you’re not careful it’s entirely possible your practice could create the very type of damage you’re seeking to avoid.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, and author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also the editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]