by Jen O Neill
Last April, the eruption by the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull caused an ash cloud that affected 10 million people worldwide and 77% of European civil aviation airspace. Over 100,000 flights were cancelled during the eight days of the crisis.
One organisation at the centre of this event was Brussels-based Eurocontrol who are responsible for the safety of air navigation in Europe. Consequently they know where planes are taking off and landing across Europe.
How Eurocontrol responded to the crisis
Aurelie Valtat of Eurocontrol recently gave a presentation to the Belgian chapter of IABC on how that organisation used social media during the volcanic ash crisis.
Usually Eurocontrol is a B2B organisation—they deal with air traffic control and airlines. They rarely received questions from the public. The volcanic ash crisis pushed them onto the public stage. The public needed information about their flights and the airlines were too slow for them in providing it. If you remember, information was often changing by the hour.
Before the ash crisis, Eurocontrol received around one tweet a month from the public. However, during the crisis that jumped to several hundred a day.
Eurocontrol used its web site, press conferences, Twitter, and Facebook to communicate with the public during the volcanic ash crisis. To a lesser extent, it used LinkedIn.
The human face of a company
At its best, social media allows a company’s human side to show. Although they were not used to dealing directly with the public before the volcanic ash crisis, once it started, Eurocontrol moved quickly to provide up to date information on flights.
The Web is a great source of information in a crisis. Their web site had a 5000% increase in visits during this crisis.
They used Twitter to drive people to the web site for information and to release information quickly as the web site could take up to an hour to update. The advantage of Twitter is that it is real time information.
One challenge it faced was telling the public about its Twitter and Web sites. Few members of the public use Twitter. Here they were considerably helped by mainstream media directing the public to these sites. The top referral sites to Eurocontrol’s social media sites were BBC, Le Monde, and El Pais.
In one week, their Twitter followers jumped from 300 to 11,000 and their Facebook members increased from 2,000 to 4,000.
Although they received questions in several languages, they only answered tweets in English as this meant that the widest number of people could follow the answers. They didn’t have the resources to reply in multiple languages.
Another speaker described how he set up a Facebook site to help passengers stranded with him in Bangkok. It was impossible to get through on the telephone to airlines. He placed on it links to the EU legal information on consumer rights as few passengers knew their legal rights when stranded by an airline.
Prior to the volcanic ash crisis, social media was not integrated into any of Eurocontrol’s crisis communication plans. It is now.
Further information about this meeting organised by the IABC: Talking about social media.