Do You Have a Twitter Crisis Plan?
It’s hard to put into words the scale of turmoil seen in the weeks since Elon Musk acquired Twitter. News of massive new system changes and policies fill the headlines daily, key moderation and platform stability staffers have been let go, and waves of high-profile account impersonations have unsettled users. A recent viral tweet by the Washington Department of Natural Resources musing that, "[t]he Twitter wildfire is at 44 billion acres and 0% contained," captured the uncertainty and exasperation felt by many across the Twitter-verse.
Yet, while offered as a metaphor in jest, the communications framework (Ready, Set, Go) used by many government agencies for advising the public of rapidly evolving potential wildfire dangers can equally provide a useful decision-making framework for nonprofit organizations in responding to current instability on Twitter.
As documented in volumes of research, simple and easy-to-understand messages are critical to effectively communicating messages and information in a time of crisis or heightened emotion. That's why so many public safety agencies across America use a Ready, Set, Go alert system to inform the public of the potential need to quickly respond in a natural disaster or other rapidly evolving dangerous situation.
In the first stage, members of the public are prompted to "Get Ready," for later action through pre-planning and discussion with family members. Similarly, organizing conversations at your nonprofit with leadership and key spokespeople on what a Twitter exit (either completely or partially) plan might look like is an important first step.
- Key question to consider: What's your (Social Media) North Star? All social media channels have relative pros and cons in terms of privacy, management values, and audience reach. Aligning internally on what your organization's goals and values are for social media; who you want to reach; and how you can best protect your mission, values, and spokespeople across social channels will make later decisions easier.
- Featured Resource: If you leave Twitter where would you go? A recent Washington Post article explored a number of alternative social media channels that organizations and individuals can consider. Several useful articles have been written recently for those looking to understand or explore Mastodon, including articles by Fast Company and the Columbia Journalism Review on cultural and other challenges users may face in a switch to Mastodon.
- For Further Reading: A recent blog ("Should I Stay or Should I Go") by M+R—outlining some of the key questions nonprofit communicators and organizations should consider before making a platform shift—is a useful tool for teeing-up internal conversations on staying, minimizing use, or leaving Twitter altogether.
At the "Get Set" stage, members of the public are urged to be ready to put any plans developed in the previous phase in motion at a moment's notice. The ability for an issue or topic to quickly trend or explode on Twitter is one of the reasons the channel has become so popular with community advocates, journalists, and policymakers alike. Unfortunately, the combination of reduced moderation and platform safety staff has made Twitter an even more volatile place now.
- Key Question to Consider: Do you have a roadmap for change? If considering a change to Mastodon, or another platform, be sure to map out how your organization would make such a switch and what would be involved in terms of staffing and resources. This includes backing-up Twitter lists and data, creating plans to deactivate ad accounts, and monitoring for opportunities or threats on any new channels as well as Twitter.
- Featured Resource: A "golden oldie" (but still relevant) ReThink blog ("Prep for a Crisis Before it Hits") explores the key steps and systems to have in place for an effective crisis communications response. Discussing in advance who would be in charge of any social media platform shifts and how decisions would be made will enable your organization to be more resilient.
- For Further Reading: The Pew Research Center is a great place to get a better feel on the relative reach of various social media platforms for potential alignment with your work. This includes numerous quick, easy-to-read studies on overall U.S. social media trends, social media usage patterns by U.S. journalists, and the use of newer social channels such as TikTok as a news source.
All of the stages of the Ready, Set, Go process present difficult choices in a bite-size system designed to help people make a difficult decision in a highly chaotic, charged, and emotional atmosphere. The ultimate ‘go’ phase is no different.
Hesitation, doubt, and uncertainty are natural in any major change and a decision to leave or move away from Twitter or any major communication channel initially will be difficult. But trust your planning and give yourself some grace. In a rapidly evolving situation, with incomplete information, there will be unexpected challenges, but also unforeseen opportunities to explore as well.
- Key Question to Consider: How will you communicate changes? Having both external and internal communications plans will be key to keeping followers engaged and staff, partners, and supporters informed and aligned. If Twitter is a key channel for the press, advocacy, or advertising make sure you have back-up channels ready to quickly communicate to key contacts and keep momentum on any current campaigns or projects.
- Featured Resource: for those ready to make a considered change, a 2020 blog ("NTEN Says Goodbye to Facebook") by Nonprofit Technology Network CEO Amy Sample Ward—exploring NTEN's 2020 decision to leave Facebook—provides food for thought on how to make an external communications strategy decision driven by internal values as well as how to communicate the choice to your audience.
- For Further Reading: Safety is important in any social channel and an ongoing challenge. A 2021 ReThink blog ("Bolster Your Digital Security") explores strategies and resources for social media users to protect themselves from doxing and other potential cyber security threats.
New Day, New Challenges
If there's anything that can be counted on in the weeks ahead, it's that the unexpected has become the norm and institutional and active Twitter users should be prepared and ready to adapt. We'll be writing with additional thoughts and guidance as the situation evolves. We also welcome additional suggested resources, strategy tips, analysis, and insights from other nonprofit communicators and social media experts looking to share.