Anatomy of a Crisis Tweet

Share Your Thoughts: Facebooktwitterlinkedin

Firestorm’s mantra is “Everything you learn in the first 24-hours is probably wrong.” There is a reason and a need to take deliberate steps.

By Karen Masullo, EVP Social Media

Did you see this Tweet? “Holy f****** s*** I wasbjust in a plane crash!”

If you were using Twitter in December of 2008, you did.

On the evening of December 20, 2008, Continental Airlines Flight 1404 veered off the runway at Denver International Airport while taking off resulting in 2 critical injuries, 36 non-critical injuries and a hull loss of the Boeing 737-524 aircraft. The plane eventually burst into flames.

I mention this because so many are commenting regarding the Tweets from the scene of the Asiana crash; they comment on the “novelty” of immediate news, the unique nature of Twitter as an instant story source, the “unprecedented” nature of the event as detailed by survivors on scene.

It’s not unprecedented at all.

In February of 2009, I saw this message cross my Twitter timeline: “Holy S***! A small plane crashed into homes a couple miles from my house! Jet fuel is spilling into the streets!!!!”

We have seen videos, images, and first person reactions from all major events since the inception of Twitter and other social platforms. In the case of the Asiana crash, the first voice we heard was mature, calm and focused on survivors.

Asiana Crash First TweetDavid Eun messaged carefully and thoughtfully while certainly in shock himself. As with almost all of the crisis events we have observed on Twitter over the past six years, major media outlets immediately reached out to Mr. Eun and others, but Mr. Eun, an executive at Samsung, declined.

When CNN contacted Mr. Eun for details, he said he preferred to keep the focus on saving lives. Good on you Mr. Eun and by association, good on Samsung for having the good sense to hire you.

It is not the immediacy of news and news delivery platforms that causes concern, it is the sensationalism of that news, and that is nothing new.

Possible manipulation and exploitation of a victim on-scene is nothing new either, it is simply done electronically now, and given that, we must be prepared for that eventuality.


In conversation on this subject with Firestorm Principal Ken O’Dell, we discussed a blog article we both felt missed the mark in a number of areas, but was being circulated somewhat widely with a decent number of social shares. The first “point” we were both disturbed by was the comment that “Asiana did a poor job.”

Article Quote: “Unfortunately, Asiana Airlines, with the world’s eyes set on it, was slow to respond and was far from satisfying the insatiable need for more information in the hours after the crash”.

Ken O’Dell: “Asiana did a poor job? I’m sorry, but did Asiana do a poor job or is the “insatiable need” for instant gratification the problem? When we allow statements to like this to go unchecked we do ourselves and our industry a disservice. Was Asiana sitting back waiting for someone to pick up the ball? Not from everything I can see; they were responding quickly and effectively to the critical need to ensure the safety of their passengers and reach out to the families of those affected.” (See our expert Ann SanCartier’s piece on this).

In a second article quote: “The savvy journalists are not waiting by their fax machine for an official press release, but are ready to quote Live accounts of passengers and bystanders being shared online.”

Ken O’Dell: ‘Are they really savvy or do they just regurgitate what someone else says. Journalist who don’t add context to the story are not providing new information, they are just repeating what someone else says or has already said…that isn’t journalism. Yes, live sources and accounts of victims and witnesses are important story lines to tell, but what in fact was the first tweet and how was it “quoted” in the next 24 hours? I can only guess that the 4000 quotes were more or less just re-tweets or cut/paste into the news stories (and therefore completely void of that individual’s full context). If the person was interviewed and quoted 4000 times in 24 hours it would be equivalent to a 21.4 second interview. I’m sorry, but not a lot of valuable information can be gained from a 21.4 second interview.

Remember, just repeating something 4000 times doesn’t necessarily make it good!  As CNN tried to do, a truly savvy journalist would have tracked down the individual, conducted a good interview and written a story about the individual’s first impressions and thoughts. THAT would be a story. The Crisis Communications experts of the world need to stand up in a singular voice and say to those with unreal appetites (and those with misconceptions of what it really means to be the focus of multiple media outlets), that it is ok and in fact “IS BEST PRACTICE” to “Keep quiet and respond to the situation before you speak about it.”’

In every Firestorm webinar I have conducted over the past two years, I have shown examples of media reaching out via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and others to on-scene survivors, minors, those in lockdown and in danger, those in shock and distress, and again, the reach-out is nothing new; the immediacy of the response however, may be.

Eun Tweet from Crash

There is something important in David Eun’s response then, and it provides an excellent jumping off point for best practice. His short tweets tell us a good deal about the man: his focus is not on himself; he shuns publicity for publicity’s sake; he cares about family and their welfare and the welfare of others. But most important, his is a mature voice.

Great crisis response is after all, about maturity. How mature your plan, your messaging, your ability to predict outcome and respond appropriately with the focus on the safety and protection of people and property. I may begin calling this maturity of voice “The Eun Response.”

I don’t know if I could have been that calm and reasoned under such stress. Could you? Buy your team lunch and discuss this post with them; ask them if they have been in a crisis; did they tweet? What did they post? Do they wish they could take it back? Ask them their motivation. In that question, you will truly be able to hear their understanding of the anatomy of a crisis Tweet. Let us know what you learn and remember, “Every Crisis is a Human Crisis.”



Please join me for an upcoming Social Media Firestorm Webinar, July 31 from 2-3 PM Eastern, as we look at recent incidents and explore tools and approaches to help keep you in Crisis-Ready mode should you experience a Social Media Firestorm.

Share Your Thoughts: Facebooktwitterlinkedin