Twitter has become the tool of choice in a crisis. Reporters and law enforcement use it to broadcast updates. Organizations use it to show how they are dealing with a crisis. Sources use it show bad behavior.
Hashtags, which make tweets easier to find, are a major reason for Twitter's emergence as a critical crisis communications channel. Now Twitter's ability to convey images and video adds to its utility and power.
A less obvious advantage is that Twitter is a perfect companion for people with a smartphone that can capture and publish information in real-time. That advantage becomes a necessity in environments, such as the riots in Ferguson, Missouri following the police shooting of an unarmed black youth, when cameras are banned.
The immediacy and brevity of Twitter make it highly suitable for crisis reporting. Tweets offer quick impressions or breaking news like virtually no other channel. It is the social media version of someone tapping you on the shoulder to let you know about something important.
Reporters can employ Twitter to cover a story in snippets as it unfolds. Law enforcement or emergency responders can provide timely notices or updates. Companies can demonstrate how they are stopping a leak. Sources can flag major events, such as the waiting passenger who snapped a picture of the Asiana Airlines plane that skidded to a landing at the San Francisco Airport last year. As the Ferguson incident showed, Twitter also can expose what some would have hidden.
Not that long ago, Twitter never would have appeared in crisis communications plans. Now a crisis plan without including Twitter may be considered malpractice.