No Time to Think – The Importance of Prepared Messaging

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Jim Satterfield, President, COO and Co-Founder of Firestorm continuously advises schools and businesses that “what you learn in the first 24-hours of a crisis is generally wrong.”

Unfortunately, at the beginning of a crisis, most people handling the crisis feel a pressure to communicate; herein lies a problem: the spread of misinformation. How you respond and what you say will either incite response or intensify the ongoing crisis.

Not only can the spread of misinformation lead to other crises, but how quickly the information spreads becomes problematic. In a recent webinar, Black Swan Solutions Director, Michelle Colisimo, sheds light on this very topic. “In the days before social media, you had time to think about what to say before it [reached] broadcast media. Now with social media, you’re talking seconds.”

The “golden hour” that once was, is now seconds. If you are not monitoring social media and what is being said, you are behind. You will find that you are responding to a dated piece of information and not the current information that is online. Failure to identify and monitor all threats and risks is one of the five common failures in a crisis situation.

The spread of misinformation proved all too true after two school shootings. According to Greenville Online, “researchers examined more than 5,000 social media posts during active shooting situations at Fern Creek High school in Kentucky and Albemarle High School in North Carolina.” Both incidents occurred on September 30, 2014. The information was gathered by Clemson University’s Social Media Listening Center. The center found that a majority of the information shared was false. The spread of this information can come from students, employees and other stakeholders, causing a whirlwind of inaccurate messages.

Steps To Minimize Miscommunication

Unfortunately, there is no way to stop the spread of misinformation. There are, however, tactics to minimize the spread.

  • Prior to a crisis, educate parents, employees and other stakeholders to use official social media accounts and other online sources for information. i.e.- Company or school Twitter and Facebook accounts, websites and emergency notification systems.
  • Have pre-established messages ready to use prior to a crisis occurring.
  • Share clear and concise messages online when information is ready to be released.
  • Monitor threads, streams, hashtags and accounts diligently.

Joe Mazer, director of the Social Media Listening Center stated, “Schools need to have a clearly articulated crisis management plan that highlights the role of social media management during an active shooter event.”

Prior to a crisis, Firestorm recommends creating an intelligence network. In order to understand risk and prepare for a crisis, you must monitor social media behavior by building an intelligence network. Understand what stakeholders are saying about your organization, school or business.

  • Any newsworthy event that attracts traditional print and electronic media will also result in social-media attention.  
  • Firestorm recommends monitoring traditional and new media for specific phrases, streams, key words, other issues, etc. before crises occur to establish a base line.
  • Once a potential or actual crisis has been identified, monitoring is critical.
  • Reports should be provided to the Crisis Team on a regular schedule or immediately, if a posting of concern is identified.
  • Careful monitoring of incoming inquiries as well as timely media and online monitoring will identify rumors, misinformation, emerging attacks or incorrect information.

With new research showing that 92 percent of teens are online every day and 24 percent say they’re online “almost constantly,” you must be aware of what is being said online. The probability of one of the 92/100 teens with access to social media sharing inaccurate information is high. Surviving a crisis starts with preparation.

Learning should NOT happen in panic mode. Following the PREDICT.PLAN.PERFORM.® methodology of Firestorm, we want you to have the tools and the expertise set up or at your disposal in the predict phase; ensuring your management team and employees do not learn in panic mode when a crisis occurs.

crisis communication approach

In the words of Jim Satterfield and Harry Rhulen (Firestorm CEO and Co-Founder), “Don’t let your first response become your second crisis.”

Parents, Employees and Other Stakeholders

Do NOT believe everything you read online, see on the television or view via any other type of media. Be cautious and use common sense. Go directly to the source – school website or social media accounts, city officials, and verified websites and accounts. This will not guarantee information is 100% correct, however, it will be more reliable than an unknown or anonymous source sharing information via a personal social media account.


Crisis planning and controlling messages can both be complex, and without guidance, overwhelming. Implementing a PREDICT.PLAN.PERFORM.® methodology to your crisis management efforts will help build a solid, reliable plan in case of disaster. Do you not know where to begin? That’s why we’re here; contact us and we’ll point you in the right direction.

pppLearn more about creating an intelligence network by downloading our brief.

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