Joe Paterno's son dealt with the crush of media inquiries following the death of his legendary father over the weekend by sending a tweet. No media filters. No time delay. Just an efficient, effortless and graceful shout-out to the world.
Twitter has emerged as a go-to tool for the news media and crisis communicators. You can tweet from a smartphone or tablet. It's fast. It's direct. And it demands careful word choices to make your point in 140 characters.
Media outlets and individual reporters use Twitter to alert people to breaking news and provide updates. It might be an earthquake or a presidential debate. You can follow the tweets and know what's going on and what's being said in real time.
The same rapid response is essential in crisis communications. Say there is an accident with environmental impacts. Tweets can demonstrate a business is on top of the situation by communicating valuable, accurate information in real time to employees, neighbors, emergency responders and news reporters. Questions can be posed and answered when concerns are at a peak.
Twitter can work in tandem with other social media platforms such as Facebook, Flickr and YouTube to provide more information, images and video. The immediacy of the information can allay fears and focus attention on remaining serious problems. Twitter also can team up with a website to direct viewers to sources of additional, in-depth information.
Information dispatched by Twitter and other social media needs to be vetted for accuracy and with some awareness of future consequences. However, the review shouldn't turn this high-speed communication channel into a slow-motion train wreck. Speed is the DNA of Twitter and universal outreach is its value proposition.
Many times the right course in a crisis is to talk to a single reporter. Other times the need is to get the out word to a lot of people fast. That's when Twitter shines.